The Sternsinger carol singers stand up for child refugees in the European Parliament
More than 20 million of the world’s refugees are children and young people. They were the focus of the 56th “Three Kings” carol-singing event, which included visits by the Sternsinger carol singers to the European Parliament and COMECE.
For his first official Papal visit in July 2013, Pope Francis did not choose to call on influential and mighty heads of state and government. Instead, he elected to go and see the African refugees on the Italian island of Lampedusa. His actions sent a powerful signal and helped bring European asylum and refugee policies back into the spotlight.
The carolling event held in Germany at the end of 2013/beginning of 2014 was the largest global solidarity initiative by children for children, with the motto “Segen bringen, Segen sein – für Flüchtlingskinder in Malawi und weltweit” (Offer blessings and be a blessing for refugee children in Malawi and throughout the world). Dressed as the Three Kings, children go from house to house offering New Year blessings and collecting donations for projects to help children around the world.
The children’s relief organisation “Die Sternsinger” which is part of the Catholic Church in Germany, launched a dual academic study entitled “Für unser Leben von morgen” (For all our tomorrows) in order to supplement and add greater depth to the materials related to the initiative. The study provides an exemplary critical analysis of the educational restrictions and opportunities for under-age refugees in Germany and Malawi.
Improving educational prospects and tapping into potential
When the two parts of the study are compared, some surprising parallels emerge despite the different contexts. With regard to educational prospects and the factors restricting these prospects, it becomes clear that violence, discrimination and a lack of equal opportunities all cast a long shadow over the educational situation of young refugees. Language plays a key role when it comes to making practical use of educational opportunities. It determines whether access to higher education (or even just to an adequate basic education) is hindered or even rendered impossible.
What the study clearly shows is a narrow perception of refugees which is limited purely to their needs and problems. Their capacity to survive represents an important resource in trying to build a life under adverse conditions. We need to break out of this narrow perception that focuses only on needs and problem areas by examining underlying cultural factors, by questioning assumptions of self-evident truths. By doing so, we can better discover the potential and talents of under-age refugees. A further parallel exists in the need to broaden our perspective to examine the family (or the close environment) of the refugees. Only by doing this can under-age refugees be properly supported.
The commitment of the children’s relief organisation “Die Sternsinger” to under-age refugees bears witness to its steadfast dedication to policies at national, European and international level based on human rights and the rights of the child and guided by a sense of global responsibility.
Sternsinger delegation in the European Parliament and at COMECE
Such steadfast commitment also made its mark on the occasion of the receptions held for the Sternsinger carol singers by COMECE and the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, on 7 January 2014 in Brussels.
Four Sternsinger groups from Germany, Austria, Italy and Hungary inscribed the C+M+B blessings “Christus mansionem benedicat, May Christ bless this house” on the Parliament door and talked about their commitment to helping disadvantaged children around the world. They expressed their concern that the European Union should devote more attention to poverty in developing countries and called for particular focus to be placed on the fate of refugees, especially child refugees: “In our Sternsinger preparation we learned that more than 20 million of the world’s refugees are children and young people. They have been through dreadful experiences and are looking for security. It is our hope that the European Parliament will also continue to stand up for refugees,” said German Sternsinger representative Maike, aged 17, from Würselen. President Schulz responded: “Your appeal to this house does not fall on deaf ears. On the contrary, the European Parliament is the European institution that does the most for refugees.”
This is how the Sternsinger carol singers came to bear witness in words and deeds in Brussels to what Pope Francis had promised the refugees on Lampedusa: “The Church is near you in the search for a more dignified life for yourselves and for your families.”
Policy adviser, Children’s relief organisation “Die Sternsinger”
Translated from the original text in German