Youth at the centre of international migration policy

Promoting the rights of young people uprooted

In June, UNICEF Germany’s youth delegates Yasmin, Sandra and Alexandra travelled to Morocco to participate in a youth workshop organised by the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD). The workshop aimed at unpacking priority issues for young people uprooted. Why? Because UN member states are elaborating a global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration to be adopted in December 2018. And because no one knows more about the challenges, needs and priorities of young migrants than young migrants themselves.

Together with other young people with a migration background from around the world the three youth delegates actively participated in and contributed to the workshop. The young people then took over the stage and presented their advocacy messages to the over 150 other delegates attending the workshop. But what do young people expect from international politics? To find out, we asked them.

Decision-makers can only understand what migration means for us, when they hear our stories and find out more about our experiences

Why do you think it’s important for young people to participate in the elaboration of a new Global Compact for Migration?

Sandra: Human migration is as old as history but the question remains: “What will a world look like where people will not live in the same place they or their parents were born?” The current global compact negotiations and their impact on migration will affect young people significantly. As people with individual rights we take decisions on how and where we would like to live. That’s why we must have a seat at the table during the negotiations.

Yasmin: The participation of young people in politics is crucial for finding sustainable and creative solutions to the many challenges of our time. It‘s important for decision-makers to be open to innovation and change; just because things have been agreed upon in the past doesn’t mean that they should never be challenged.

Alexandra: I agree. Migrant youth have the same rights as other young people, no matter where they come from and where they’re going. Unfortunately, the reality is somewhat different. That’s why it’s so important to involve youth in the global compact negotiations. Decision-makers can only understand what migration means for us, when they hear our stories and find out more about our experiences.

A young lady being interviewed by two people with a microphone and camera pointed at her.
© UNICEF/Germany/2018 Together with other young people from around the world, our youth delegates actively participated in and contributed to the Agadir youth workshop, organised by the GFMD, the Moroccan government and UNICEF.

What impressed you most about the workshop?

Alexandra: The ability to cooperate with peers. We were able to prove that language barriers, cultural differences and borders cannot prevent young people from fighting for a better world. If everybody focused on what we have in common, there would be no nationalities, ethnicities, religions and class systems. Instead we would see people for who they really are: people with dreams, desires and hopes for a world where every person can enjoy the same rights.

Sandra: I was very moved by the collaboration with our peers too. We all have different life experiences. And yet we were united by our ambition to better protect children.
We were able to achieve something incredible in a really short time. When young people unite, we can erase all borders and maps from our minds; we can create a fairer world.

Yasmin: It was indeed impressive to see how many young people are taking joint action to challenge existing ideas and concepts. Delegates listened to us and took our messages seriously. That’s really important.

We’re not ‘the others’; we are who we are … migration doesn’t define us

During the one-day youth pre-meeting, you shaped your advocacy messages and planned your contribution to the official GFMD workshop the day after. Which topics were particularly important to you?

Sandra:  Youth participation, full access to education and integration as a two-way process requiring both willingness and hard work were particularly important to us. Every child should be able to enjoy a happy childhood. And no one should have to depend on the protection and goodwill of others; most importantly, every child should be able to grow up in an environment which fulfils his or her potential.

Alexandra: We were keen to pass on the following messages: discrimination is not the right response to migration. Young migrants have a right to security, education and participation. We all have great potential: give us a chance to prove it! We’re not ‘the others’; we are who we are: creative, innovative, intelligent and unique through our backgrounds, experiences and dreams. Migration doesn’t define us.

Yasmin: It was very important for us to demonstrate how important it is for young people to be able to influence and engage in political debates. We tried to address youth migration creatively and innovatively. And we did so by demonstrating how valuable youth participation can be. Since the workshop, many delegates have been in touch to keep exchanging ideas.

Young people should be given the opportunity to influence policies across borders. Because today’s political decisions will primarily affect them in the future.

Hands of various people stacked on top of one another in a gesture of unity
© UNICEF/Germany/2018 The youth delegates had a strong message during the workshop: “Young people can and want to change things for the better – give us a chance to prove ourselves!”

The Global Compact on Migration will be adopted in December. What are your hopes for migrant children and youth?

Yasmin: We’re keen to start a follow-up project to raise awareness about youth participation amongst the general public. Young people should have a voice in key global policy areas – just as we did in Agadir. That’s why we’d like to build on what we achieved in Morocco. We’d like to present the results of our project to delegates attending the intergovernmental conference on international migration in December and continue the process well into the future.

Sandra: We also hope that our messages are a wake-up call to governments and people worldwide to create a world in which migrant children can develop their potential, don’t have to fear for their lives and can access their rights to education, health, family reunification and life – just as any other child worldwide.

Alexandra: I agree. The Global Compact on Migration constitutes a historic opportunity to protect children’s rights. I hope that young people and children can continue to influence the development and implementation of the Global Compact on Migration and will be given the opportunity to tell their stories, present their ideas and be present when it’s being adopted later this year. I am sure that their presence at the summit and their experiences and personalities will show global leaders the real significance of the global compact – the importance of supporting young people to fulfil their potential, to help them deal with the terrible experiences they have made and, most importantly, to prevent these terrible incidents from ever happening again.

The workshop may be over, but our youth delegates continue to take action. Young people should be given the opportunity to influence policies across borders. Because today’s political decisions will primarily affect them in the future. That’s why UNICEF encourages young people to speak out and participate in the decisions that affect their lives.


The interview was conducted by Jessica Hanschur, Christine Kahmann and Susanne Hassel, who report on current UNICEF topics at UNICEF Germany.




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