Child refugee artworks shine light on life in UK asylum limbo

Model volcanoes made by young asylum seekers go on display in south-east England

Models made by children are part of the Leave to Remain exhibition in Margate, south-east England. Photo: Carl Freedman Gallery
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Sculptures by child refugees in Britain are going on display as an artist looks to shine a light on their lives in asylum limbo.

Model volcanoes made by young asylum seekers are part of an exhibition in Margate, on the English south-east coast.

Many migrant children are housed in the area after crossing the English Channel, in small boat journeys the government is desperate to stop.

More than 3,400 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in Britain last year. Common countries of origin included Afghanistan, Iran and Syria.

Artist Jose Campos, a former refugee from El Salvador now living in the UK, worked with some of the youngsters on the Margate exhibition.

Thirty young people were involved in "drawing, conversations, play and making", of which the volcano sculptures were the result, the Carl Freedman Gallery said.

The volcano stands for "shifting geological forms that contradict man-made borders".

Osama Sharkia, of the Kent Refugee Action Network, said the children used art to "express complex emotions about their journeys to the UK in a way that words may not have been able to express".

"There were workshops that empowered our youths to explore their creativity, express themselves and build confidence," said Mr Sharkia, a former refugee from Syria.

"Through art, we nurtured their voices and inspired them to shape their futures with resilience and imagination."

Mr Campos said he "hopes this artwork shines a light on these young people’s lives in Kent".

"I was also a refugee and I know that care, dialogue and the chance to be creative can really make a difference," he said.

The Margate exhibition is known as Leave to Remain, a UK government term for people with partial residency rights.

The refugee network said children often struggle for years to get permanent status, known as indefinite leave to remain.

Unaccompanied minors are exempt from being deported to Rwanda under a controversial UK scheme that cleared its latest hurdle in parliament on Monday.

But concerns have been raised that children could be deported inadvertently due to doubts about their age.

The government has indicated that it will look with a sceptical eye, including with the use of scientific age assessment tests, at people who claim to be under 18.

Updated: April 24, 2024, 6:17 AM