I facilitated a discussion today on the pulls of Syria on young people and the passion and energy in the room really was moving. The room was made up of a large number of young Muslims who clearly were passionate about doing something to help the refugees and the lives of innocent Syrians caught up in the bitter conflict. The questions were sharp and incisive and we simply do a grave injustice when we think that young people are not really aware of the world around them. Many were very well read and the common sense arguments that they put across were sometimes hard to go against.
Yet, what was clear was that Syria has thrown up real challenges for police forces, local authorities and the Home Office. Figures talk about about 700 young men having travelled to Syria through Turkey and the Lebanon and that 200 have already returned to the UK and it is clear that it is those returning that are causing a dilemma for the Government. It is also interesting to note that police forces have reflected long and hard about how to work with young people returning from the conflict zone. Clearly, all returnees will be questioned when back in the UK though there is a realisation within many police forces that criminalizing all young men returning from Syria is not a solution and may push them more in the direction of taking extreme positions. Police forces, local authorities and support agencies are therefore looking at a more holistic form of support that re-integrates young people back into their local communities. This should be widely welcome.
It was also important to reflect on the messages from the Metropolitan Police Service that were promoted today. The MET acknowledged the passion that many young people had to help in Syria and they suggested that this positive energy should be focussed on working with registered charities in the UK who have the skills, infrastructure and expertise to help people in the ground in Syria. The MET also has laid out the dangers of travelling to Syria and the real risk of death if young people got involved in the fighting.
Finally, I was impressed and taken aback by the responsibility, care, respect and openess that the young people showed at this session which was held by Faith Matters. We should not under-estimate nor assume anything in working with and engaging with young people. You may just be surprised as to how much they really absorb and are aware of. Overall, a truly inspiring evening.