THIS WEEK’S TABLOID NARRATIVE: TREAT CHILDREN FLEEING WARZONES WITH SUSPICION

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The tabloids have responded in typical fashion to the news that a handful of child refugees have arrived in the UK.

On Monday, fourteen children aged 14-17 arrived from Calais as part of a resettlement programme before the ‘jungle’ camp is demolished by French authorities. The children are from war torn countries such as Syria, Sudan and Eritrea.

Cue the usual suspects, never ones to miss an opportunity to paint those fleeing warzones in a negative light, falling over each other to put a negative spin on the story. The angle they’ve gone for this time is to cast doubts over the fact the refugees are children.

The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, The Sun and the Daily Star all covered the story using the same narrative.

The only ‘evidence’ these papers could offer to back up these suspicions were comments on Twitter that some of the children looked older than 17 from random members of the public plus a few UKIP and Tory politicians.

The Daily Mail article included a quote from someone the paper claimed to be an aid worker saying ‘they are adults pretending to be children’, but this was an unnamed and unverified source.

However, the paper couldn’t have had much confidence in this statement as it placed a caption beneath each picture of the refugees (all of whom looked pretty much like teenagers) stating ‘there is no suggestion that those pictured are lying about being under 17’.

Those from the Home Office who were quoted confirmed that checks had been carried out to determine the age of the refugees. The process for verifying the age of refugees is not straightforward. If documents such as birth certificates or medical records are not available, the government has procedures and guidelines to follow to assess a person’s age.

Some of the tabloids quoted critics including Tory David Davies saying that medical tests such as dental checks should be carried out to verify age. But these can only offer an estimate on a person’s age two years either way so it’s questionable how useful this would be at a time when there are pressures to keep public spending to a minimum.

The fourteen who arrived on Monday had been assessed and verified as children, the Home Office said.

If there was some hard evidence that proved otherwise, you could understand the papers covering the story in the way that they have. At least they would have been reporting news.

But reporting that some people on Twitter are saying the refugees look too old to be children is not news. The tabloids know what they are doing. They are stirring up the same old fear, hatred and suspicion of migrants as usual.

But this is worse. To do this to children – of any kind, let alone those seeking refuge – with no evidence to back up what you are implying is not only nasty. At a time when racist attacks are on the increase, it’s downright irresponsible too.

Tabloid Corrections Facebook page: here.

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