22 July 2023

Primary school children take action after murals at refugee centre painted over

22 July 2023

A group of primary school children left feeling “ashamed of their country” after murals were painted over at an asylum centre in Kent have sent hand-drawn pictures to the young refugees housed there.

Two classes of pupils, aged between eight and nine, at St Gerard’s Catholic Primary School in Birmingham, have gathered about 100 hand-drawn pictures to send to children at the Kent Intake Centre.

The drawings were sent on Friday before the school broke up for the summer holidays, with some pictures also being sent directly to immigration minister Robert Jenrick.

It comes after Mr Jenrick said the murals, which included images of Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters, were not “age appropriate” for the majority of young people staying there – but reports claimed he had felt they were “too welcoming”.

The children at St Gerard’s said they felt “disappointed”, “sad”, “angry”, and “ashamed of their country”, and they were inspired to do something to make the children feel “more welcome”.

Eight-year-old Hugo told the PA news agency: “When I heard it, it made me feel ashamed of my country because they’re making the children’s centre less welcoming.”

Another of the pupils, whose surnames have been omitted at the school’s request, eight-year-old Ophelia, added: “It made me feel really sad and angry, because some people in the world aren’t being very nice to them, and I think they should be welcomed everywhere.”

Ophelia added that they were inspired to make their own pictures to send to the children, saying: “So we made these to send them to the Government so that they could stick them up so they feel welcomed.”

The pupils have gathered about 100 drawings so far, while others have written stories for the children to read.

Darcey, also eight, said: “As soon as I heard that those paintings were being painted over, I almost cried, because I don’t think people should be treated like that because we don’t know what they’re going through.”

Nine-year-old Anointing-Shalom said: “When I heard that the pictures have been painted over, it made me angry, and it made me feel disappointed because we want them to feel welcomed.

“We’re supposed to treat others how we want to be treated.”

Hugo said he wanted the children at the asylum centre to “recognise they are not alone” and that “there are other people that are with them”.

Darcey said she wanted people to recognise that refugee children are “like superheroes” as “they’ve been escaping their country and they’ve probably been walking miles and miles to just find safety”.

Anointing-Shalom’s message to “all the refugees out there” is “to never give up because they’ve come this far and we don’t want to turn them around and push them back”.

Of the Government, Ophelia added: “I think they should listen to us and change their mind and start being kind to the refugees and giving them things.”

I think they should listen to us and change their mind and start being kind to the refugees and giving them things

Children in the older classes at St Gerard’s have also written letters to their MP, Labour’s Paulette Hamilton, who was said to have written back giving her views and agreeing with the children about what changes they would like to see.

Adult refugees from Sudan, Cameroon, Syria and Nigeria also visited the pupils at school last week, through the Stories of Hope and Home charity.

As part of the school’s work towards a Schools of Sanctuary award – a national network of more than 400 schools committed to creating a culture of welcome and inclusion for refugees and those seeing asylum – the children at St Gerard’s heard what it was like for refugees to leave their country and seek asylum in the UK.

Asked how she felt when hearing their stories, Anointing-Shalom said: “It makes me feel ashamed because it makes me feel like the country that I live in is not that friendly if you’re not from here.”

Darcey added: “It makes me feel very depressed and ashamed, because I think the Government are doing the wrong thing, and they don’t know what it’s like to walk a mile in their shoes.”

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