PUPILS from Hermitage Academy have travelled to London to deliver a petition calling for action to tackle the plight of unaccompanied refugee children.

The members of the Academy’s ‘Rights Respecting School’ group presented their petition to Helensburgh’s MP, Brendan O’Hara, at the House of Commons.

Their visit fulfilled a promise made to the group last year by the Argyll and Bute MP, after he met with members of the group in December to raise awareness of the injustice of refugee children not being allowed to join their families in the UK.

Since that meeting just before Christmas, the group has been campaigning both at school and in the wider community in Helensburgh and beyond to highlight the current position that forbids refugee children fleeing war torn countries from joining their families in the UK and instead holds them in refugee camps, scattered throughout Europe, very often in desperate and highly dangerous conditions.

Mr O’Hara recently gave specific praise to the work being done by the Academy on the floor of the House of Commons during a debate on child refugees.

Over the past few months the group have collected hundreds of signatures on their petition and having raised enough money for the trip to London, thanks to a successful bag pack at a local supermarket, they were able to make the 500-mile trip, where they delivered the petition in person to Mr O’Hara.

While in London, the group also met Mr O’Hara’s SNP colleague, Angus Brendan MacNeil, MP for the Western Isles.

Mr MacNeil, who has a Private Member’s Bill currently going through Parliament which seeks to change the law surrounding refugee children, was delighted to spend time with the group to talk about his proposed new law.

On meeting the group, Mr O’Hara said: “I am so proud of these young people.

“They are determined to highlight injustice where they see it happening, and then to do something about it by raising awareness among their fellow pupils, their friends and their families.

“They really are a credit to their families, their school and their community.”

The Academy’s ‘Rights Respecting Schools’ group was set up last year and has since been recognised for its efforts by UNICEF, which oversees the scheme.

The initiative recognises schools which put the the UN Convention on the Right of the Child (UNCRC) at the heart of their practice to improve well-being and help all children realise their potential.

Rights Respecting Schools awards are based on the principles of equality, dignity, respect, non-discrimination and participation – all of them enshrined in the UNCRC.

Even before Mr O’Hara’s visit to the school in December, the members of the Academy group persuaded more than 450 of their classmates and teachers to sign a petition backing UNICEF’s 2017 ‘OutRight’ campaign.

That figure soon rose to 1,100 when pupils returned to class after the Christmas and New Year holiday.

Based on articles 10 and 22 of the UN Rights of the Child, the campaign is calling for the UK government to change current laws which require children fleeing war zones to reach Europe before being considered for reunification with their families.

The UK’s current laws also don’t recognise brothers, sisters or grandparents as family members.

Councillor Yvonne McNeilly, Argyll and Bute’s policy lead for education, said: “This is a remarkable group of compassionate young people, and they should be extremely proud of what they are achieving.

“I would like to congratulate them on all their hard work – they are a credit to Hermitage Academy and to Argyll and Bute.”

UNICEF’s ‘OutRight’ campaign runs on an annual basis with the theme changing each year.

Its 2018 campaign focuses on air pollution and on protecting children’s right to health and to live in a safe, clean environment.