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The most powerful voices when protecting the rights and improving the conditions of children on the move are children who have been forced to migrate themselves. To show this, young people affected by migration as children have stood up and shared their experiences at conferences as part of the Destination Unknown campaign.

One of those involved in the Global Conference on Children on the Move, which took place last month in Berlin, is Mohamad. Mohamad, like his parents before him, was born and raised as a refugee in Baddawi camp in Lebanon, after his grandparents fled to the country from Israel in 1948.

Despite Palestinian refugees like Mohamad living in Lebanon for such a long time, they are still blocked from some professions – like being doctors, teachers or lawyers – with limitations also placed on their study. Mohamad wanted to be a lawyer when he was growing up, and now works for an NGO helping people displaced by the Syrian conflict.

Mariane was nine years old when she moved to the United States from Brazil with her parents. After leaving high school only to be told she couldn’t attend university because of her migration status, she was apprehended by immigration authorities and detained – despite being only 17 and the rest of her family legally living in the country. After a month in detention, Mariane was deported to Brazil alone – a country she could barely remember.

Mariane is now working on her master thesis on the immigration detention of children, and also campaigns for the abolition of rules allowing minors to be detained just because of their or their parents migration status.

Karim fled Syria alone as a child refugee after his house was bombed three times and his neighbours were buried in the rubble. After not being allowed to stay in Lebanon, Karim travelled through Turkey and crossed the Aegean Sea in a small boat with nearly fifty other refugees to Greece, before walking long distances through Europe to Germany.

Karim is now the spokesperson for a youth group in Germany, and campaigns for the rights and protection of refugee children and youth, and champions the right of young refugees to be included in the decision-making processes affecting them.

Milena was just four when she and her family were forced to leave Armenia for Iran, where she spent two years living in a squalid refugee camp and was forced to share rooms with adult men she didn’t know. After being prevented from living in a house with relatives in Iran by the authorities, Milena was eventually allowed to settle in Germany where she is now completing her A-levels.

While also working as a UNICEF volunteer, Milena has campaigned for the rights of children on the move, and at 17 was the youngest ever rapporteur to take part in the 2017 Global Forum on Migration and Development. After her studies Milena wants to become a doctor, a pilot or a lawyer – and her dream is to one day visit Mecca.

The most qualified experts on children on the move are the children who have been forced to migrate themselves. These children’s experiences, messages and ideas must be listened to and taken on board by governments and international institutions across the world.

Only by doing this will the international community stop treating child refugees and migrants as a burden, and instead treat them in ways that benefit them, their host communities and the entire planet as a whole.

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