Amnesty International Leeds Group rounded off Refugee Week with a stall in the busy centre of Leeds. 224 members of the public signed an eye-catching petition made of red hand-prints to support the Red Hand Campaign, which aims to persuade every country to ratify the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The Protocol exists to stop countries from forcing anyone under 18 to participate in military hostilities. It is crucial that all countries ratify it: children forced into conflict have been known to be sent into minefields and sometimes even used for suicide missions. Some of the child soldiers living in countries yet to ratify the Protocol are as young as 8 years old.
The Amnesty team will send the petition to the UK embassies of the 61 countries that are yet to ratify the Protocol. Petitioners took away information about the plight of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK, including myth-busting booklets, a DVD about destitution, and a summary of the Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees. The stall also had a quiz to identify some of the main countries that produce refugees (many of which are also yet to sign the Optional Protocol), and children were given official (and very popular!) Refugee Week balloons and stickers to take home.
Many of the children who are forced into armed conflict become refugees. It is only this year that the UK government has promised to end the detention of children in immigration removal centres, some of whom may have been child soldiers in their home countries. It is vitally important to encourage every country to sign the Protocol to prevent children from being forced into dangerous and traumatic situations, which could in turn force them to leave their home countries to seek uncertain refuge elsewhere.