This World Mental Health Day, Destination Unknown is starting a campaign to call on governments to ensure that children on the move can access the mental health and psychosocial support they need.
With the current global health emergency and the uncertainty and restrictions that it has brought, many of us are experiencing new levels of anxiety, fear, and emotional distress. Since the start of the pandemic, research has shown that children and young people have often felt worried and anxious about different things, including the disruption to their routines.
Across the world, 30-34 million children have been forced to leave their homes. Many experience trauma and stress at different stages of mobility. The current pandemic is likely to compound this. Ensuring timely access to quality psychosocial support to deal with distress and trauma is crucial for these children’s current and future wellbeing, yet it is all too often lacking.
Destination Unknown members support children and young people on the move in countries of origin, transit and destination. We hear stories of, and work with children who migrate for a number of reasons, including children forced to flee their homes, for example to escape violence and conflict. While each child’s story is unique, trauma at one stage or another is a common experience, and the need for mental health support is often identified.
In Mantapala refugee camp, in the Luapula province of Zambia, Lifeline/Childline Zambia provides free counselling to children in need of psychosocial support. The organization has set up community help desks including child friendly spaces where a range of activities and games are conducted to help the children feel safe and comfortable. They share their stories and experiences, therefore enabling them to start the healing process. Their work has highlighted that it is crucial to have adequate services and support available in the community to ensure access for vulnerable children.
“I counselled two siblings who were aged 15 and 18 years old. They lost both their parents who were killed by a rebel group […]. Witnessing the brutal killings of their parents traumatised the siblings.[…] With us, they embarked on a journey of recovery, we journeyed together through the trauma they faced, instilling hope in them and nurturing healing, by building a community with other people in the refugee camp” (a Lifeline/Childline counsellor in Mantapala refugee camp).
Destination Unknown is committed to continue sharing practices from members’ work that can be replicated and scaled up as we call on governments to ensure that all children on the move can get the psychosocial support they need and when they need it. All children, regardless of their mobility or their parents’ migration status, have the right to access healthcare services that meet their needs. A child is a child, and every child should be able to grow up healthy, learn and develop.
 UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Global Trends: Forced Displacement in 2019, 18 June 2020