Who let you in, miss?

18th June 2004 at 01:00
Having recently moved house I've been feeling a little disorientated, so receiving a bright orange note in my pigeonhole advising me that I was being "displaced" only heightened the sensation.

Alarmed, I checked again to find that it was only my classroom that was being occupied for exams. Now, although I am very attached to my classroom (OK, obsessive), being temporarily displaced from it isn't too much of a burden. Not like being displaced from one's homeland, is it? Losing the OHT cable and my secret stash of board pens is hardly a life and death situation.

The word reminded me of some of the pupils I have taught who were truly displaced. The 15-year-old girl who witnessed her entire family being slaughtered by machete and survived by pretending to be dead in a tree for three days. Or the 16-year-old boy who could initially draw pictures only of dead men and tanks, the only surviving male member of his family, living in care, who dreams of becoming a lawyer to bring justice to the world.

Who would deny these children and turn them away?

Well, apparently quite a number of us if the prejudiced outpourings of the Daily Mail and recent TV programmes are to be believed. They'd have us think that there are boatfuls of "them" lurking off our shores just waiting to leap into our way of life and take what they can get.

Are they, perhaps, thinking of the 11-year-old boy, a lonely refugee in a foster home, who lovingly carries his grandfather's 1950s' English-Arabic dictionary full of arcane words which is literally falling apart in his hands? His tears of joy at being given an up-to-date phrase book for pound;3.99 would surely melt the hardest heart.

Or the 12-year-old girl who had never been to school until she was forced, along with all the other female members of her family, to flee her country barefoot at night after the murder of her father.

Their thirst for knowledge and the contribution they make in the classroom is heartening. My teaching was certainly enriched by them. Yet, if the Government has its way, no such children will find themselves in our classrooms. Instead, they'll be placed in holding centres awaiting decisions on their future. What a waste.

Year 8 write their language autobiographies. Robert sits silent and looks worried. "Miss, if my grandparents hadn't been let in here when they were running across Europe in the war, I wouldn't be here." Other pupils murmur assent. "Who decided to let you in then, miss?" Who indeed.

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