UNHCR data show that children made up 51 per cent of the world’s refugees in 2015 and that Syrians formed the world’s largest refugee population; Syrians accounted for half the people crossing the Mediterranean in 2016, while Iraq and Sudan were other Arab countries in the top 10 sources of refugees. In Europe, Germany and Sweden offered by far the largest number of places to fleeing families and separated or unaccompanied children. Thousands of Arabic- speaking families have taken up residence in Germany and Sweden in the last two years, while hundreds of unaccompanied refugee children have found homes in these countries and the UK.
This project, focused on impact and engagement, is supported by research arising from a 3-year-project entitled Orientation in the Development of Pan-Arab Television for Children (AH/1000674/1), which investigated production, distribution and content of screen media for Arab children and their use of it, including use by children of Arab heritage in the UK.
This impact and engagement project is underpinned by findings from all strands of the original research, including the fact Arab children in Europe have been exposed in their home countries not only to real-life crises but an omnipresent, unregulated stream of mediatised atrocities. Media and other bodies in Europe now need to integrate the needs of Arab and other migrant children and families into their forward planning and commissioning. For this to happen effectively, it is necessary to widen media discourse about how child audiences are understood and represented.
Our previous research project pointed to gaps that European media can fill in addressing Arab and other migrant children, whose previous experience of children’s content has been dominated by didacticism, lacking in entertaining formats, and subject to well-intentioned but top-down, stop-go production decisions by ruling elites that have not been suited to nurturing local creativity or building supply chains.
At a time of dwindling budgets for children’s screen content there are also strong economic reasons for encouraging low-cost innovative and interactive cultural production that involves cross-border collaboration and meets urgent needs.
Engaging on issues of good practice with European stakeholders has potential for influence elsewhere in Europe, promoting learning about citizenship and local social engagement among children whose parents may be experiencing homesickness and disorientation and whose extended families are scattered across countries and continents.