19 January 2017
By Sophia Kousiakis
“Here we are losing the time and chances, we are losing the time of our youth” – Afghan female youth in Lesvos
Today the world is young; youth between the ages of 15-24 years old make up a good quarter of the world’s population. Refugees and migrants are no exception with youth representing 33% of those who are on the move. Despite their high numbers, humanitarian assistance rarely targets youth, who are perhaps the most underserved of those on the move. Their capacities and diverse needs are all too often overlooked.
Since 2015 the world has seen over a million people fleeing war, poverty and natural disaster. People who felt their only hope of finding peace was to make a dangerous journey across land and sea in search of a dignified life in Europe; a bastion of human rights.
Out of the 60,000 refugees left stranded in Greece, 30% are youth. They are surprised and discouraged by their experience of the journey and arrival to unexpectedly low European human rights standards. Many of these young people fled war, yet still feel neither safety nor support in their new situation.
“Don’t Forget Us”, a new report by Mercy Corps and NRC highlights the voices and life-worlds of young refugees in Greece. Through discussion with 120 adolescents and youth from 11 different countries, residing on Greek islands and mainland sites, the study is the first of its kind in Greece.
A major ask from all refugee youth is a chance to continue their education; seeing it as a way to improve their life and have a future they have reason to value.
“Without education you do not have future development in your life. A well educated person knows how to go ahead in her life” – Afghan/Iraqi Female youth in Athens
Many young men and women we met had their education disrupted in their home countries, due to displacement, attacks on schools and poverty. For some young people the high costs of education and curricula overemphasising theoretical learning over practical application has made it near impossible to break into the labour market and to find that first job.
“When you reach university it costs a lot of money and there is no material. For example, I’m a ship engineer and there was no adequate material for my education. How can I learn? If you are studying science for example how do you? When I did my first internship I had no idea because I had never seen such tools or materials” – Male youth in Lesvos (Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Republic of Congo, DRC, Mali).
The study hopes to challenge governments and humanitarian workers to move away from the status quo. Echoing the call for UN Member States, the UN, civil society, private sector, media, local authorities and youth-led organisations through the Global Compact for Young people in Humanitarian Action, the report urges us to meaningfully engage youth. All actors should make sure to give youth space to use their voice and enjoy the very welcomed change brought about when we embrace their fresh insight.
Sophia Kousiakis is an Education Coordinator for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in Oslo, Norway. She discusses the release of a new report “Don’t Forget Us: Voices of young refugees and migrants in Greece” by Mercy Corps and NRC.