We are Danielle Turkov Wilson, Uwe Praetel and Grigorij Richters, the three initiators of #WeAreTheChildren. We met in 2018 when Grigorij was walking from Paris to Berlin, to raise awareness about 1,000 unaccompanied children who are currently stuck in European refugee camps. We have been brought together, united in our passion to protect and support innocent children who are currently destined to be and have less than others simply because they come from conflict and poverty. They have no-one to fend for them and need our help to give them a real chance in life.
In the summer of 2018 Grigorij met Majid Sharifi, a 17 year old Afghan who grew up in Iran. He came to Europe a few years ago to reunite with his older brother Sayed who has asylum in Germany. But Majid‘s situation is complicated. He has no other family and given German bureaucracy he never stood a chance of reunification.
Grigorij and a group of volunteers tried to help Majid but his situation is getting worse every day. Like the other unaccompanied children Majid was stuck in what the BBC calls “the worst refugee camp on Earth”, Camp Moria in Greece. Like many other children Majid is highly traumatised. He is now living on the streets of Athens without any hope. The system has given-up on him and if he gets caught once he turns 18 in a few months, he will be deported. Forced to live on the street as a child completely voiceless until he is old enough for Europe to say you cannot stay. He has tried to commit suicide three times and his story is one of many.
Grigorij got very frustrated and decided to do something to raise awareness about Majid and the other children. According to reports received some girls, as young as eight, are forced to perform sexual acts in order to receive water and other essentials. The children have no rights to education and from time to time when the camp has run out of food, the kids are forced to starve for days and weeks.
After hearing about this, Grigorij created a campaign called “I March for You”. His intention was to walk from Paris to Berlin, via Brussels and Cologne, and to get EU politicians to listen and to act.
He created a petition on change.org and a car dealership in Berlin gave him a 40 year old VW T2b which became his “petition on wheels”. He knew he had to create attention and the car made his campaign very visible. The French graffiti team THEO painted the car and nearly 5,000 people signed the bus to show their support for the children.
When Grigorij arrived in Brussels he met Danielle, they previously met virtually, she empathised with his campaign and wanted to support him and highlight these issues further in the heart of the European Union. Danielle also continued advising Grigorij throughout his I MARCH FOR YOU journey.
Grigorij walked through 19 German cities. His first stop was Aachen where he met with the mayor, Hilde Scheidt. She told him about a letter that the mayors of Aachen, Düsseldorf, Cologne and Bonn sent to Angela Merkel a few months prior, making it clear that the four cities were more than willing to take in more refugees. But the German Government stayed silent. She then explained to Grigorij that the cities would be willing to take in the 1,000 children. When Grigorij met with the mayors and city officials of the other three cities, they confirmed this. At this point he knew there was a path to save the children and give them a chance at a future. Grigorij met with over 15 mayors and many of them also agreed to take some of the children.
But the cities can‘t just go to Greece and collect the kids. They can only act if the German Government agrees to it.
Once he had the support of the cities he reached out to every single Member of Parliament asking for a chance to make his case. 29 MPs agreed to meet with him. He met with members of EVERY party in the Bundestag. 27 of the MPs agreed to support his initiative and agreed to help find a way to save the children.
It quickly became clear that the one politician he had to convince was the interior minister, Horst Seehofer. Grigorij and several of the MPs wrote letters to him. State minister of Europe, Michael Roth, personally handed a letter to Mr Seehofer from Grigorij, after a meeting. None of the letters were ever answered.
Grigorij‘s walk from Paris to Berlin, ended on December 9, 2018. The new year began extremely quietly with no news. Politics in Berlin seem more complicated than ever. Grigorij got very frustrated and focused on selling the VW bus but so far this has not yet been possible.
Danielle, who has worked extensively in the European Parliament on the rights of minorities globally, pushed ahead to organise an event that took place on 20 March 2019 presided by an Italian Member of the European Parliament, Brando Benifei.
We commissioned DLA Piper to do legal research to review the rights that these vulnerable children are entitled to. You can review there research, here. We presented this research as part of the panel discussion in the European Parliament.
On 20 March we presented our #WeAreTheChildren at the European Parliament. Thank you to Member of the European Parliament Brando Benifei and his team, the European Parliament Youth Intergroup and EU40 for hosting us.
We asked Parliament and politicians from all EU member states to help save 1,000 children who are currently stuck in Greek refugee camps.
We have managed to alert the European Commission and European Parliament members to the urgent need of getting the unaccompanied children out of the refugee camps in Greece and requested the implementation of a minoring mechanisms for human rights violations and the living conditions they have endured