Young refugees and asylum seekers have created an art exhibition inspired by their journeys to Kent and hopes for the future.
The project was launched at Turner Contemporary in Margate to mark Refugee Week before being put on a show at libraries across the county.
The collection features 20 paintings, drawings, sculptures and murals by Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASCs) who arrived in Kent over the past decade.
Among the artists is Grmalem Kasa, who contributed six paintings which document his five-month journey from his village in Eritrea to Kent.
The 19-year-old, who is now studying art, said: “I came to England in 2014 and when I first arrived, I couldn’t speak any English and couldn’t say how old I was or where I came from. I had a horrible journey, but I think it made me stronger.
“When I arrived in Kent I was put in foster care. My foster parents are really nice and lovely and I see them as my mum and dad. They support me, encourage me and have become the centre of my life.
“I never did art in my country but my foster carer saw me drawing and bought me a canvas. All my mind is full of my journey and I began drawing my journey. I spent all night drawing on the canvas making the thoughts in my mind real.
“I couldn’t speak that much English to explain my journey but when my foster mum saw my drawings she understood me more. From that, I felt art can help people communicate more easily.”
The exhibition was organised by UASC Peer Champions who provide peer support and mentoring to other young people moving into their area in order to promote community engagement and integration.
Penny Ademuyiwa, Assistant Director for Kent County Council’s Front Door Service, said: “The stories told by our young people through their art are extremely moving and thought-provoking.
“They are an example of why we as corporate parents should do everything in our power to give our young people a voice and celebrate their success. I am so proud of everything they have achieved.”
Caroline Smith, Assistant Director of Corporate Parenting, added: “It is amazing to see the power of art, in supporting children and young people to tell their stories and their work is so inspiring.
“Grmalem also highlights the importance of giving children a stable home and the difference that foster carers can make, I hope that this will inspire more people from our Kent communities to come forward to foster for Kent.”
The artwork is currently on display at Deal Library until the end of June before being shown at libraries across Kent for the remainder of the year.
Notes for journalists
KCC has a legal responsibility to look after under-18s who arrive in the county from abroad, seeking asylum under the Children Act 1989.
Over the past decade, events led to a large increase in the number coming through Port of Dover, Eurotunnel and over entry points to the county.
After an assessment of their physical and mental health, language ability and other issues, those under 16 go into foster care and 16-17-year-olds go either into foster homes or into supported accommodation.
While the number of UASC referrals has dropped significantly from 948 in 2015 to 172 in 2018, the number of referrals received to date in 2019 is almost double that received during the same time the previous year.
Although we receive government funding to provide care for these children, KCC currently faces a shortfall of £6.1 million in costs to care for them.