“Many young people dream of making it to Europe. In some places migration is completely idealized,” a 17-year-old Moroccan states, checking the reaction of the other young people around the table. “It’s true,” an 18-year-old migrant from West Africa responds, “But migration is not always a choice.” He clears his throat, lowers his eyes and adds softly, “You know, it’s very hard to leave your home.”
Around the world, a growing number of children and young people are on the move. The crisis of 2015 has propelled the issue of migration to the center of the world stage. Yet, due to a lack of representation and resources available to them, the specific needs of young migrants are too often overlooked.
The Global Compact on Migration – the first intergovernmental agreement on migration – is expected to be adopted in Marrakesh, Morocco in December 2018. To make sure that the rights and wellbeing of young migrants are comprehensively addressed in the compact, UNICEF partnered with the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) to organize a thematic workshop, aiming to unpack priority issues for young people uprooted. The workshop titled “Children and Youth on the Move” was held from 21-22 June in Agadir, Morocco.
Experts on migration are plentiful. But no one knows more about the challenges, needs, and priorities of young migrants than young migrants themselves. That is why UNICEF invited 13 young people with migration background from Italy, Germany, the UK, and Morocco to actively participate in and contribute to the Agadir workshop.
During a one-day youth pre-meeting facilitated by UNICEF and the UN Major Group of Children and Young People, the young delegates came together to shape their advocacy messages and plan their contribution to the official GFMD workshop the day after.
“I want to speak up and represent the young migrant community the best way possible,” a young delegate proclaimed when asked about her goal for the workshop. “I want to let decision-makers know that young people are holding them accountable,” another one added. “We also want to find solutions, together,” everyone agreed.
One day. That’s all it took for 13 strangers from around the world to build trust, become a dynamic unit, and collectively work towards one goal.
Employing a participatory methodology, the young delegates led the preparatory process. They shared experiences about migration, agreed on priority issues to address, and collectively came up with advocacy messaging. “Young migrants are actors of change with rights – our future!” Under cheers the young people agreed on this key message to be conveyed to decision makers and then, full of enthusiasm, split up into groups to conceptualize and plan their interventions at the Agadir workshop.
One day. That’s all it took for 13 strangers from around the world to build trust, become a dynamic unit, and collectively work towards one goal. Cultural barriers? Don’t exist. Language barriers? Don’t matter. The young delegates proved what youth-led advocacy in the age of hyper connectivity can look like: a powerful mix of empathy, pragmatism, and innovation. Youth-led advocacy 2.0.
When the GFMD workshop started, the young delegates were ready to take over, and they did. Claiming their space among more than 150 representatives from government, academia, and civil society, they were front and center, conveying their messages via performances, presentations, and plenary discussions. “Don’t just listen to us. Put our messages into practice,” a young delegate urged the audience in her remarks, adding, “We need your support – together, we can make a change.”
The Agadir workshop might be over and the youth delegates once again scattered around the world. But they aren’t done yet. The joint Whatsapp group keeps buzzing, every other minute or so, with a new update, a new project idea, or a cryptic succession of carefully curated emojis. The Agadir workshop confirmed that effective, inclusive, non-tokenistic youth engagement is possible at the highest level. It’s on UNICEF to build on this experience and make the necessary investments to make sure that the voices of young people are and remain represented in key international forums and processes around the world.
Mischa Liatowitsch is a Youth Engagement Specialist at UNICEF HQ.