Put children at the heart of refugee protection responses
Grace, 16, was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo but was forced to leave the country with her siblings and their mother when she was very young. They sought refuge in South Africa. Grace and her sisters face perpetual difficulties accessing the most essential services since their asylum documentation was lost when their mother died. They face discrimination and difficulties in accessing education, health care and in having their own home where they can feel safe.
“You can’t walk to town without a paper… The other time I did not have a uniform on, and they stopped me. If I have uniform, they will allow me to pass. If I have no uniform, they will stop me and might arrest me[…] I can’t go to the clinic or hospital because of no paper so I ask someone to go on my behalf and they can bring a few medicines for me to take at home. If there is none to go on my behalf, then I just wait for the sickness to go.”
As we mark the 19th World Refugee Day, it is an important occasion to highlight and understand the issues that refugees face globally and to celebrate their achievements and resilience. A day to express solidarity with refugees, asylum seekers and host communities, including children like Grace. This year, children continue to represent over half of the world’s 26 million refugees. Like Grace and her sisters, millions of children on the move face discrimination, arbitrary arrests, detention and deportation, loss of identity documents and nationality, lack of access to education and economic opportunities and limited access to health services. They are at risk of abuse, violence, and exploitation. The risks can be even greater for unaccompanied and separated children.
There is one big difference this World Refugee Day; we are in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis, with COVID-19 still hitting many communities hard six months after the outbreak began. During the pandemic, there has been evidence in many countries that COVID-19 and measures taken to manage it have increased the vulnerability of children, including refugee children, to all forms of abuse.
Destination Unknown members and partners have continued supporting refugee children and youth throughout the pandemic in many countries by giving them the tools to be agents of the change they want to see. The theme of this year’s World Refugee Day is ‘Every Action Counts’. We believe that actions, however small, and especially if developed in consultation and collaboration with children and young people on the move themselves, can have a big impact on the lives and protection of children and youth.
Destination Unknown will continue to campaign alongside communities and local and national partners to ensure that the rights of all children moving within or between countries, voluntarily or involuntarily, are respected and protected. We will do this with children and young refugees as we pledged to do in support of implementing the new global agreement, the Global Compact for Refugees, for children.
Many governments have made pledges that - if effectively implemented - will make a difference for children as they put the Global Compact for Refugees into action – from improving access to quality education to ensuring access to documentation. Destination Unknown calls on governments to put children at the heart of their refugee protection responses and to ensure that all the necessary measures are put in place to address the needs of refugee children. We ask governments to support the meaningful participation and engagement of refugee children and youth, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, and to ensure their rights are upheld, their childhoods protected, and their futures certain.
If everyone comes together, we can work towards a 20th World Refugee Day where refugee children and youth and host communities can truly say the world is different and a better place for refugees.