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It’s time for governments to walk the talk when it comes to treating refugee and migrant children with the respect and dignity they deserve, and turn promising words into concrete actions.

This was the verdict of three Destination Unknown campaign youth representatives, Joshua Hofert, Carl Kristiansson and Anas Ansar, after the tenth Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) drew to a close in Berlin on Saturday (1 July).

There were many positive signs to take away from the conference – one of which being a previously unseen interest from governments on the concerns and solutions civil society put forward.

Understanding between governments and NGOs grew at the conference, with country representatives showing a willingness to listen to organisations’ criticism – something previously brushed off at other meetings.

But these conferences are not where change happens. Change happens in the time between meetings and forums, where people mobilise to directly help children, youths and other people currently on the move across the world.

“The key next steps can be summarised in three words – implementation, implementation and implementation,” GFMD Civil Society Chair Wies Maas told the Destination Unknown campaign in Berlin. The laws, rules and guidelines protecting children on the move across the planet already exist – but they must be put into practice.

Detaining children simply because of their migration status is a prime example of how existing rules blocking this should be implemented. Detention is never in the child’s best interest and governments know it. Alternatives to detention are not only better solutions for children and youths, they are also a more cost-efficient solution for the host country.

It’s time states got serious about putting the rights of child refugees and migrants first, and stopped locking them up solely because of where they come from or how they crossed a border.

Civil Society must also take advantage of this freer dialogue with governments and candidly demand for them to put children’s needs at the heart of migration policies, according to GFMD Civil Society Co-Chair Berenice Valdez Rivera.

The voices of children and youths themselves, explaining from their own experience how they can be helped, must also be brought to the fore. Children on the move must be actively incorporated into the political process – designing and influencing policies that will directly affect them.

This should not just focus on children on the move towards and within Europe. Civil society must strengthen the voices of refugees and migrants – and children in particular – travelling to and from locations the world over.

The two upcoming UN Global Compacts on refugees and safe, orderly and regular migration provide the perfect platform for these changes to happen.

Global compacts that place children from across the globe at their core and set strong goals, targets and indicators to make sure countries are genuinely caring for refugees are essential. For this to happen, these goals, targets and indicators must be monitored and evaluated periodically.

Child rights were placed at the centre of the compacts during the GFMD Civil Society Days and to a lesser extent within the Common Space – a day of interactions between governments and NGOs.

The Initiative for Child Rights in the Global Compacts – a drive led by Terre des Hommes and Save the Children to ensure both compacts put children at their core – received praise from a representative of the Swiss Foreign Affairs Ministry on the quality of its recommendations on the topic. Pietro Mona said the proposals are “perfect for policy makers to take elements from and fit them into their decision making processes”.

The Insan Association – Destination Unknown campaign coordinator in the Middle East – will now lead a consultation on the recommendations with other civil society actors in Beirut, Lebanon in August, with the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants carrying out the European consultation in September in Brussels, Belgium.

We also know now that European Union (EU) institutions will not consult directly with member states on the issue, due to weaknesses in European migration policy caused by the hostile positions on migration taken by some EU countries – notably Hungary.

These hostile positions reveal the challenges children on the move still face to get the protection they deserve across the world. Encouraging words at high level events must now trickle down into meaningful change on the ground, freeing child refugees and migrants – and all young people affected by migration – to reclaim their own futures.

 

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