Refugee Youth- Why the Silence

The city, known for its diverse population from many countries and cultures, is home to various exemplary youth initiatives that offer social services, cultural programs or sport activities in their respective communities. With a big migrant population and so many vibrant youth initiatives, Friday’s panel on “Youth Migration: Why the Silence” side event held during the Global Conference on Cities and Migration could not have wished for a better setting.

The side event discussed the social and economic risks and opportunities of young migrants and ways on how to improve the social capital and economic integration of youth. Youth in audience had a good chance to listen and learn from best practices and experiences of the distinguished panelists in a discussion guided by Sharmaarke Abdullahi, Programme Management Officer at UN-Habitat’s Youth Unit and Livelihood Unit.

In her keynote speech, Emine Bozkurt, former Dutch member of the European Parliament and daughter of Turkish immigrants, reported how the situation in the Netherlands changed since the arrival of her parents in the 1970s. “Back then, my family was welcomed with music and joy, as labor force was desperately needed.”

In contrast, today European politics seek to discourage people from entering the European territory. Behind this agenda, the stories, wishes, hopes and desperations of individual youth fade away. Migrants are regarded as an anonymous part of a mass phenomenon.

This approach dehumanizes  individuals’ need labeling third and fourth generation migrants as foreigners in their home country. To overcome this situation, Mrs. Bozkurt highlighted the importance of creating opportunities for migrants to participate in civil service positions to contribute in serving the society.. She also indicated that “Ownership, participation, dialogue and creating a sense of belonging are key components to fostering a welcoming spirit among host communities to migrants.

For many communities, an unexpected increase of newcomers often creates new challenges, especially when it comes to spatial integration. In his research, Professor Frank Eckardt from the Bauhaus University Weimar focuses on the spatial integration of refugees and migrants in urban areas.Professor Frank Eckardt identifies three options for city planners to create sufficient housing:

1 Build own houses for refugees; 2) Build new houses in socially diverse areas and provide space for refugees and the local population; 3) Integrate refugees in existing social housing structures.

All options are practiced in Germany, however, Eckardt identified five factors that are crucial for their success:

1) Access to education; 2) A good learning and playing environment for children; 3) An environment that provides emotional support and social control – for young migrants, families often provide this environment; 4) A concentration of migrations in one area must be socially and culturally accepted by the neighbors. Eckardt warns to place migrants in areas with a strong history of xenophobia; finally,
5) The community must identify positive role models, communicate success stories of migrants or refugees and show that a successful integration benefits the community as a whole.

Ahmed Ulla, a young Rohingya-Canadian, shifted the attention from practical guidelines for integration to the challenges he faced when becoming a refugee himself. He grew up in a rich household in Myanmar, but became a refugee when his family was forced to flee to Bangladesh when their life came under threat.

With his father killed, his mother traumatized and all the family possessions lost, his life turned upside down. Fortunately, in 2009 he was resettled to Canada and had the opportunity to start over.

Ahmed Ulla gave insight into the feelings and challenges he faced when he arrived in Canada. He did not know the language and he entered a society, whose way of life he had never imaged to exist nor to have. But, he wanted to take the opportunity he received and build up a new life for himself – with success. Today, he has become an active member in his community. When hundreds of thousands of Rohingya flew Myanmar in August 2017, he launched a campaign in Canada to raise awareness to the situation of his fellow Rohingya in Myanmar and Bangladesh and called upon the Canadian Government to step up and help the Rohingya people. The Canadian Government agreed to match every dollar raised.

Kader Sevinç, member of the Turkish CHP and the European Socialists and Democrat’s presidency, underscored the need for richer countries to step up their support for the millions of migrants that are living under severe conditions in many developing countries. “Especially Europe should do more to support the three million migrants in Turkey and the refugees suffering in Libyan camps,” said Kader Sevinç She called for a more active debate in the European public about the responsibility Europeans have to support people in need. She emphasized the need for more local and national government to reject the anti-migration populism that has led to a severe restriction of refugee’s opportunities to find support in Europe and for non-Western migrants to integrate in European societies.

“The aggressive debate about refugees and immigrants that has taken hold of European politics in the last years has led to distinction between “good” and “bad” migrants in the last years,” said Jonas Freist-Held, European representative in the Youth Advisory Board of UN-Habitat adding that “the rights of refugees (e.g. the right to family reunification) have been restricted in the past two years and measures to prevent refugees from crossing Europe’s external borders increased throughout the last two years. At the same time, migrants that do not qualify for asylum have been discredited and labelled as criminals that illegally entered the European Union. Whereas refugees are considered as “good”, because their reasons to come to Europe are considered as legitimate by most people, irregularly arriving migrants have been labelled as “bad” as their reasons to come to Europe are considered illegitimate. This distinction has been enforced by the public debate and political decisions and created an atmosphere of hostility against many people that come to Europe in hope for a better future. “

The individual stories, wishes or hopes of human beings have become irrelevant. This climate poses a challenge to integrate migrants and refugees at the community level. Especially for young migrants, it is difficult to become an active community member in a society that is hostile to their presence.

The different inputs and discussions highlighted what stereotypes and prejudices migrants face, what needs and hopes they have and what impact the public debate has on the capability of communities to successfully integrate newcomers.

To successfully integrate migrants and refugees at the local level, essential challenges such as housing, language, education and labor market participation have were addressed. The panel discussion provided a platform to share different experiences that are relevant to develop policies and activities that facilitate the integration of (young) migrants and refugees in cities at this time when UN-Habitat advocates to #LeaveNoOneBehind.

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