Powerful play and panel discussion explore the experiences of unaccompanied young asylum seekers

Published: Monday 25th June 2018

On Tuesday 19 June, a play commissioned by Coram chronicling the impact on young unaccompanied asylum seekers of desperate journeys to the UK, was performed and produced by National Youth Theatre at City Hall, London.

National Youth Theatre perform Wherever I Lay My Head

National Youth Theatre perform Wherever I Lay My Head by Jamila Gavin - photo by Helen Murray

Wherever I Lay My Head, written by award-winning writer, Jamila Gavin is based on the testimonies of unaccompanied teenagers who travelled/were trafficked to the UK from areas of conflict, arriving in Kent. It explores the disruptive impact of trauma on the young people’s lives, particularly on their ability to sleep.

Directed by Andrew Whyment of National Youth Theatre, the Wherever I Lay My Head cast included NYT members and young people from Coram’s Young Citizens programme. 

The performance was followed by a panel discussion chaired by broadcaster Sian Williams, with Lord Alf Dubs, Sarah Hammond, Interim Director of Specialist Children’s Services at Kent County Council and Dr Jasmine Chin, Clinical Lead at Coram.

Lord Dubs spoke of the legal paths to safety that are so desperately needed for children seeking protection, and the urgent need for the government to accept more child refugees so they are not forced into dangerous or illegal routes.

When asked what one thing we can do to help child refugees who come to the UK, Lord Dubs said we must “give them a sense of their own self-worth and let them know our communities value them.”

Sarah Hammond spoke of the experiences of Kent County Council as a local authority who has looked after 2,000 unaccompanied children and young people since 2015. Kent County Council and Coram pioneered ‘sleep packs’ to help migrant children experiencing sleep problems following their traumatic journeys, and Sarah spoke of the importance of “developing new and creative ways to ensure children are looked after to the best of our ability, and sharing our learning from Kent with other local authorities to make a difference.”

Dr Jasmine Chin highlighted the re-traumatisation that can be caused by the asylum system and the grants of short-term leave that cause uncertainty for young people. She added: “Young refugees need acceptance, belonging and security. They need to make sense of their experiences and all that they’ve lost. It’s only then that they can build their futures in the UK.”

Wherever I Lay My Head panel discussion

L-R Sian Williams, Renuka Jeyarajah-Dent, Director of Operations at Coram, Dr Jasmine Chin, Clinical Lead at Coram, Lord Dubs, Dr Carol Homden CBE, Chief Executive of Coram, Andrew Whyment, Director of Wherever I Lay My Head, Ahmed Mohammed, Mayor's Young Londoners Peer Outreach Worker, Sarah Hammond, Interim Director of Specialist Children’s Services at Kent County Council and Tazmin Miah, Mayor's Young Londoners Peer Outreach Worker. Photo by Helen Murray

Dr Carol Homden CBE, CEO of Coram closed the discussion by drawing attention to the “enormous role that foster carers play in helping unaccompanied children and the critical importance of belonging and learning to trust again.”

The evening was hosted by the Mayor’s Young Londoners Peer Outreach team, and one of their Young Outreach Workers, Ahmed Mohammed, who entered the country at 14 as an unaccompanied asylum seeker, shared his thoughts:

Watching the performance was like having my own story narrated to me. I was exposed to dangers you cannot imagine, but with the help of a kind person, my social worker and one foster family, I stand strong and hopeful for the future.

 

I want to use my experiences to give hope to others in a similar situation.