Jasamin (3) from Afghanistan is one of the tens of thousands of refugee and migrant children on the move to Europe. I first caught sight of her moments after she crossed the border from Greece into the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, with her parents and Mohamed, her 19-month-old brother. Like the hundreds of children crossing the same path every day; she was exhausted and confused about where she was and where she was going from here.
While Jasamin and her father waited for information on the next bus or train to Tabanovce – a town north close to the border with Serbia – her mother Zaharon (32) brought Mohamed to the UNICEF-supported child-friendly space for a quick wash and nappy change. She was grateful for the fresh baby clothes and hygiene pack provided.
After learning that they would need to wait two hours for the next bus; Zaharon decided to bring Jasamin to the child-friendly space. She was hoping the team would help her cheer up, but unaccustomed the new environment, Jasamin didn’t take well to the new faces.
She eventually decided to come in, still sucking on her blue whistle – maybe a toy from home, or maybe a small gift given to her by an aid worker or volunteers she met on the way – like it was a comforter.
She kept peeking at the door, trying not to lose sight of her mum who was halfway in the tent, halfway out trying not to lose sight of her husband and Mohamed – worried that the family could become separated.
Both mother and daughter finally eased up – Jasamin started to colour and draw, while Zaharon, confident that her daughter was in a safe place, went to take over feeding Mohamed.
Soon Jasamin took to the space: She captured the attention of UNICEF colleague Blagoja Angelovski and challenged him to a game of football. She was jumping for joy and did not want to leave.
Her father had to come to the tent several times before he could finally convince her that it was time to go. Eventually, she left with a smile and the ball, to wait with her family for the bus.
In the short time I spent with Jasamin, she reminded me that the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe is a crisis for children. She also reminded me that when it comes to children on the move, even they themselves need to be reminded that they are children first.
Suzie Pappas-Capovska is a Communication Officer with UNICEF in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.