As governments struggle to cope with unprecedented numbers of people seeking asylum across the continent, processing shelters remain focused on the very basics. Resources are channelled into meals and a bed, and in many countries, there is little knowledge or experience in caring for children.
For the past two years, C&A Foundation and C&A have been partnering with Save the Children, so that they are able to step in to make sure their rights and well-being are not forgotten.
Larissa Mettler, Director National Programmes of Save the Children Switzerland puts the situation into context: “In 2016, more than 9,000 refugee children arrived in Switzerland; more than half were under six years old and every fifth child was unaccompanied by a parent or a legal guardian. In Germany, 261,386 refugee children arrived in 2016 - more than one in 10 were under four years old.
“Many of these children have witnessed or experienced violence in their home countries, or on route to Europe. It's a harrowing situation, but thanks to the support of C&A Foundation, C&A and others, we've been able to put in place a structure and approach that is having a strong and positive impact for these kids.”
Conditions in the shelters are tough on everyone, but children are particularly vulnerable. Following a detailed child needs and rights analysis, Save the Children has developed clear guidelines and a Code of Conduct for how to care for children in the shelters.
“In Switzerland, Germany and many other countries, we have also established Child Friendly Spaces within the shelters," explains Larissa. “Before these, there was almost nothing for children. Now we've been able to secure rooms where kids can be safe, where they can play and learn, and just be kids again."
Save the Children has recruited highly qualified child care givers to work in these spaces, providing them with training in psycho-social support for vulnerable children.
The approach is making a big difference, says Larissa: “We're trying to deliver a holistic package of care and stimulation for the kids, building their resilience, focusing on practical lessons in healthcare, allowing them to express themselves, and also teaching the local language."
One little boy, Nabid*, is now barely recognisable since the first time Larissa met him.
“When I first met Nabid, he was six years old and had come to the shelter from Afghanistan. He was very disruptive and it was almost impossible to get through to him."
““In Switzerland, Germany and many other countries, we have also established Child Friendly Spaces within the shelters," explains Larissa. “Before these, there was almost nothing for children. Now we've been able to secure rooms where kids can be safe, where they can play and learn, and just be kids again."”Director National Programmes of Save the Children Switzerland Larissa Mettler
“I saw him again in December and his development has been amazing. He's picked up German incredibly quickly and he's calmed down. He participates in activities and he's focusing better, and for longer and helps to clean up. Nabid seems overall more grounded and playful.
“Nabid is just one boy, and we know that our Child Friendly Spaces are having a similar impact on many others like him."
Save the Children's refugee response in Switzerland is mirrored across many European destination and transit countries and in countries of origin where the charity has a presence. Having successfully tested the approach, the charity is now focusing on developing local capacity, working with shelter authorities and local governments to improve their capabilities through training.
Ilan Vuddamalay, Programme Manager at C&A Foundation, says: “We're incredibly proud to be supporting this work through our ongoing partnership with Save the Children.
“C&A Foundation is committed to strengthening communities wherever C&A has a presence, and our alliance with Save the Children enables us to support thousands of mothers and children during times of crisis. Thanks to the fundraising activities with C&A's customers and employees across Europe, we are helping Save the Children to reach some of the most vulnerable children and families and make them feel safe again."
*name has been changed to protect the child's identity
*pictures by Judith Leisibach, Save the Children