Not all publicity is good publicity

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04 Apr 2017

Imagine you’ve been forced to flee your home country in fear of your life. You arrive in Britain, seeking refuge.  You can barely speak of the things you’ve heard and seen, both at home and during your escape. It’s just too traumatic. Especially because you’re only a child.

When you arrive you’re frightened and bewildered. Lots of adults you don’t know ask you endless questions. You’re taken to stay somewhere unfamiliar, with people you don’t know. You’re told that the Government will decide whether or not you can stay in the country.

Over time, you adjust to your new surroundings. You begin studying. You start picking up the language. You make friends. You dare to hope you’re finally safe, that you’ve finally escaped your persecutors. That you can keep your head down and quietly try to rebuild your shattered life.

And then you’re subjected to a vile hate crime.

While you’re recovering from your horrific injuries; details of your life including your name and your picture, are plastered all over newspapers and beamed around the world. Journalists start pestering your friends.

Nobody seems to have said that all of this could be extremely dangerous for you.

People seeking asylum in Britain have come here for one purpose: to be protected. While the Government is deciding the outcome of people’s asylum claims, they are in extremely precarious positions and could face being returned to their home countries, even if they’re still scared for their lives.

Understandably, most asylum seekers who are aware of the risks are extremely and rightly cautious about appearing in the press. They’re worried that attracting publicity could have dangerous consequences; for their asylum claim, for their future if they’re sent back or for those still at home.

The boy at the centre of this story’s need for protection was even more acute. He’s still under 18; a child.

Some of his alleged attackers haven’t been named because they’re under 18 and the courts and the police are keen to protect their identities.

Yet the victim is a child too. And an asylum seeker. So why hasn’t his identity been protected?

The widespread condemnation of last Friday’s attack has been reassuring; we’ve all been shaken by the attack’s viciousness. And of course it’s natural that people want to express their solidarity and support for the victim.

But let’s not forget ourselves. Let’s not forget about our ethics. Let’s not forget about informed consent. Let’s not forget the potential consequences of vociferous press interest in a vulnerable child. Let’s let him and those around him start picking up the pieces quietly, and safely.

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