Amoun Aden Ismail is a youth and women’s empowerment activist and entrepreneur based in the Horn of Africa. Having recently worked as a Research Assistant for UNICEF’s study on Children on the Move in the Horn of Africa, Amoun shares with us her biggest learning from the experience.
Despite having worked with youth in Somaliland for the last five years, being part of UNICEF’s research on the situation of children on the move was eye-opening. One thing that struck me in particular was how many are well-informed about the dangers that lie ahead, but choose to take the risk anyway. It was especially moving to meet a young person who experienced abuse and torture in a previous migration attempt, yet who still wants to try to migrate again.
It was especially moving to meet a young person who experienced abuse and torture in a previous migration attempt, yet who still wants to try to migrate again.
Unfortunately, young men and women leave Somaliland—a territory which claimed independence from Somalia in 1991 after civil war but is not internationally recognized—every month, embarking on dangerous journeys over land and sea seeking to reach Europe. Many interviewees said that they had heard about the risks, but still insisted on migrating in search of “a better life”. As one 15-year old girl who had recently returned from her first attempt at migration put it: “I am planning to try to emigrate again, as I don’t have anything here. I know that it is dangerous. And I am scared, but I don’t have anything here and no reason to stay.”
So why are they still leaving? From my experience working on this project, it seems that young people feel a lack of hope and a disconnection with older generations who grew up with different expectations to theirs. Some simply feel that they have no other choice.
In a place where youth unemployment sits between 60-70%, it can be hard to convince young people that they can create a meaningful and dignified life at home. The Government, NGOs and other international community actors are trying to create jobs for youth, but the challenge is great. They have forgotten about the need to motivate young people and support youth initiatives which can build confidence and inspire engagement better than any job.
In a place where youth unemployment sits between 60-70%, it can be hard to convince young people that they can create a meaningful and dignified life at home.
Youth need both the practical support of a dignified livelihood as well as a sense of inclusion and participation. Indeed, many of those who migrated expressed not just disillusionment over the state of the economy, but also about their perceived exclusion, based on age, gender, class or clan. As one returnee put it, “Getting a job is all based on clan and if you don’t have the connections you won’t get anything. Even my brother went to university in Malaysia and he still wasn’t able to get a job.” While it is not impossible to get a job without connections, it can be difficult and frustrating, creating a widespread sentiment of hopelessness among young people.
Such impressions undermine the potential of youth. Even still, they have a lot of energy and huge capacity to contribute to society, whether inside their country or further afield.
Looking for solutions
One of the key responses to migration to date has been to raise awareness about the dangers associated with migration. Young people have a right to this information, but awareness could be improved through better targeting and messaging. For example, one young woman said, “I thought that those people were just saying those things because they wanted us to stay in the country,” showing that a distrust of those sending the messaging undermined her confidence in it. That said, even the most effective messaging is likely to have limited impact if individuals feel that they have no other option for building a life for themselves.
Instead, solutions need to be more youth-focused. The problem of migration will not stop unless young people are offered broad solutions that make them feel safe and provide them with opportunities to learn and feel valued. In my opinion, such efforts could include:
- Enhancing integration programmes for all young people regardless of class, gender or status of residence (refugee, internally displaced person or host community). For example, using theatre to help people understand one another’s cultures and experiences;
- Increasing access to education in line with the Sustainable Developments Goals and in cooperation with local communities;
- Supporting and growing youth information and opportunity sharing platforms;
- Creating new, and support existing, centres for sports and entertainment for young people. For example, in Hargeisa, Havoyoco offers training in circus and entertainment for young men, while Ubah inspire and fitness center gives young women a safe space to exercise, promote their self confidence, and network.
- Supporting youth-led initiatives, such as the Center for Policy Analysis which was established to transform the region through dialogue, research and policy analysis, or Plant a Tree, Plant Hope an initiative aimed at mitigating climate change by planting trees; and
- Ensuring that young, qualified people are represented within government.
Ultimately, to protect young people from the risks that migration presents, these same young people need to be at the centre of our responses.
READ our other blogs in this series on child migration in the Horn of Africa:
And visit our special report webpage on ‘No Mother Wants Her Child to Migrate‘, part one of our series of research on child migration in the region.