We need a youth perspective on migration

Blog of the European Youth Delegates, June 2016
International migration has become a symbol of the world’s growing interdependence. Today, we have the largest global youth population in history and through technology and social media we are highly connected with young people all over the planet. Also UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon declared young people as top priority within his Five-Year Action Agenda. Despite this developments and the increasing international attention of migration a focus on young people’s mobility is missing in global policy debates and national policies.

Young people migrate for different reasons. According to the United Nations in 2013 one out of eight migrants was a young person aged between 15 and 24 years old[1]. Migration can happen on a voluntary basis where young people decide moving abroad for voluntary work, their studies, a new job or a relationship. This experience constitutes an important part for the development of a young person.

But there is not only voluntary migration. Millions of people are forced to flee their country due to for example war or fear of persecution. Currently the world sees the highest number of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people since World War II[2]. An entire generation of children and young people has been living through conflict and displacement in Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq or other parts of the world. They are on the edge of being a lost generation.

Lack of rights for young refugees

The European Youth Forum’s Narrative Report on Youth Law (2013) states that support measures for young refugees and asylum seekers are very rarely included in the legislation[3]. Young refugees lack access to basic services such as education, employment, health services, adequate housing or leisure activities. They face discrimination because of their legal status or their background and are deprived of participation in society. Additionally several governments have been introducing increasingly restrictive migration and refugee policies that are for example hindering family reunification.

Hatred and xenophobic attacks against refugees are on the rise. A terrible attack happened only some weeks ago in Austria when a house where refugees were about to move in was set on fire. This happened only 20 kilometres away from my home. This was not solely an attack directly against refugees but it was also directed against me, my family, my friends and against everyone else who stands up for human rights. This and the vulnerable situation of thousands of young refugees in Europe must be seen as call for action.

Our new generation of young people

Young people fleeing their homes continue to have hope for a life of dignity and possibility. They still cherish dreams of peace and have the chance to fulfil them. An explorative study conducted by the Austrian National Youth Council and the research institute IFES shows that almost 90 % of young refugees arriving in Austria believe that they will succeed in their dream job[4]. Young people are motivated, they have aspirations. It’s also on us to make sure that their dreams become real.


Take action – Welcome refugees! (Photo: Carina Autengruber)

As advocates for youth rights we stood up when the rights of young people were violated. No matter if it was about the provision of basic needs such as food at train stations, offering translations to buy the next bus ticket or welcoming young refugees in our organisations. We were there. Young people were among the first ones supporting the neediest and creating solutions. We are providers of unique perspectives and innovative ideas that have to be part of decision-making. It is about our generation of young people.

What can you as a young person do?

Young refugees coming to Europe are facing a hard time. Not being able to speak the host countries language puts an obstacle on the inclusion of the young refugee. But also host communities can react with fear or xenophobia. As young people we can create a welcoming and supportive environment for those arriving in our community. We are the best experts on young people’s lives’. Here are some examples on how you can contribute to an inclusive society. Take actions now:

speak genf

Youth organisations need to be recognised as relevant actors. (Photo: Raphael Ruppacher)

  • Get involved with your youth organisation: A great way to engage directly with young refugees is to invite them to your daily activities, play sports with them or organise a hiking trip. Need some inspiration for projects? Find them here on this map.
  • Inclusive youth organisations: Youth organisations are in many ways role models for our society. Be an example and give young refugees the space to actively participate in leadership and mentoring programs in your organisation.
  • Address local politicians: The inclusion of young refugees happens mainly on local level. Many small-scale events and decisions on local level have a great impact on our society.
  • Greater positive media profiling: A simple way to address a broader audience is to portray your work with young refugees in local media, the school newspaper or in a blog.


[1] https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/EN-SWOP14-Report_FINAL-web.pdf

[2] http://ec.europa.eu/echo/files/aid/countries/factsheets/syria_en.pdf

[3] http://www.youthforum.org/assets/2014/07/Narrative-Report_Youth-Laws.pdf

[4] https://www.bjv.at/cms/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/pk-material-aktualisiert_10-02-161.pdf