Meaningful youth engagement

Refugee and host community youth call for more than a ‘seat at the table’ at UN Youth Forum

The ILO, UNHCR and UNICEF organized a side-event on the margins of the ECOSOC Youth Forum 2023 where refugee and host community youth advocated for a greater say in issues that affect them.

News | Addis Ababa | 11 May 2023
Panel discussion involving refugee and host community participants at the ECOSOC Youth Forum 2023 side event ©ILO

New York, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (ILO News) – “There is an urgent need to engage with host and refugee community youth in the programming targeted at them. We want to be involved at every stage - planning, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. It is not enough to give young refugees a ‘seat at the table’ through a one-off consultation,” insisted Nhial Deng, Refugee Youth Advocate from South Sudan.

He was speaking at the side-event on “Advancing Young People’s Meaningful Engagement and Participation in Forced Displacement Contexts”, co-organized by the International Labour Organization (ILO), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) on 25 April, on the margins of the ECOSOC Youth Forum 2023 held in New York.

The three organizations are working in collaboration on the Government of the Netherlands supported project - Advancing Young People’s Engagement and Meaningful Participation in the PROSPECTS Partnership - and took this opportunity to highlight innovative approaches and partnerships in working for and with forcibly displaced youth. The side event proved to be highly relevant and echoed the theme of ECOSOC Youth Forum 2023, " Accelerating the COVID-19 recovery and full implementation of the 2030 Agenda with and for youth".

Alexander Ponsen, Reporting Officer, UNHCR explained, “Despite various challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, refugee and host community youth have been at the forefront of efforts to respond to the crisis, from volunteering in their communities to developing innovative solutions to support response and recovery efforts. Their inclusion in the discussion on COVID-19 recovery was essential to promote the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda with and for youth.”

“We want to change the perception and narrative of refugees. We do not want to be just beneficiaries of development work, instead we have potential to become change agents. We need programmes empowering us to deliver the change we desire for our own communities,” said Laura, who fled Ecuador in 2007 to settle in Colombia and is now a Communications Coordinator at the Global Refugee Youth Network (GRYN). She co-moderated the panel discussion with the ILO Youth Employment and Engagement Officer, Eesha Moitra.
Jurriaan Middelhoff, the Dutch Ambassador for Youth, Education and Work along with the youth and Meaningful Youth Engagement project representatives of UN agencies. ©ILO

Highlighting the challenges in extending skilling and employment opportunities to refugee youth, Rahildaris Marchena, a panelist and a Communications Specialist at GRYN said, “The stigma associated with refugee status and lack of documentation prevents young refugees from realizing their true potential.”
From the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Jurriaan Middelhoff, the Ambassador for Youth, Education and Work, participated in the panel and at the ECOSOC Forum 2023. “We understand the challenges faced by young people and thus have prioritized meaningful youth engagement in our development work. We are putting young people, including refugees, at the centre of our development policies through our Youth at Heart strategy,” he said.

He also emphasized the key results jointly achieved by the three UN agencies through the project supported by Netherlands, thus far, notably training and capacity-building for forcibly displaced youth to succeed in work and life, empowering and connecting young refugee leaders, direct funding for youth-led action and amplifying young people’s voices in key national and international fora.

In the panel, Sileshi Umer Mohammed, represented the voice of young people from host communities. He is a member of the recently formed PROSPECTS Youth Network Committee in Ethiopia. “Refugees have faced conflict, persecution and violence in their home countries. There is trauma associated with it. It is important that we create a safe haven and welcoming environment in the communities that host them,” said Sileshi.
Sileshi Umer Mohammed, representative of the Youth Network Committees in Ethiopia. ©ILO

The Youth Network Committee provides strategic direction and guides implementation of the meaningful youth engagement programme. It is also an important step in promoting peaceful co-existence and social cohesion between the refugees and host communities in Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa and Somali regions.

Explaining this approach, the ILO’s Milagros Lazo Castro, Youth Participation and Engagement Officer, said, “Meaningful youth engagement can help to identify and address the barriers that forcibly displaced young people face in accessing decent work opportunities, such as discrimination, lack of education or the lack of relevant skills. By empowering young people to participate in decision-making processes and by supporting them to become self-reliant, we can help them develop solutions that promote decent work for all,” stressed Milagros.

Reiterating the demand by young people for increased participation, UNICEF’s, Priya Marwah, Global Lead of the Adolescents and Youth Team, underlined, “It is time to “go beyond” and empower young people to become self-reliant. It can be done by building their skills and capacities and providing them with mentorship. We need to work in collaboration with them and fund their initiatives. We have a mandate to make their participation safe, systematic, and sustainable.”

The event attended by over 50 participants present at the ECOSOC Youth Forum 2023 was successful in drawing attention of the global youth towards the highly vulnerable cohort of forcibly displaced young people. 
Watch video capturing the voices of the young panellists.