Give us a chance to build a brighter future, young refugees say

More than a dozen youth delegates from countries as diverse as Iran, Iraq and South Sudan are taking part in a high-level gathering in Geneva.

Switzerland. Portraits of the UNHCR Global Youth Advisory Council

Refugee youth delegate Foni Joyce Vuni, 25, from South Sudan, is attending a high-level meeting in Geneva devoted to obtaining a new global response to record levels of displacement.   © UNHCR/Jean-Marc Ferré

GENEVA – The way South Sudanese refugee Foni Joyce Vuni sees it, children caught up in conflicts will end up either as peacemakers or as peacebreakers. The difference is the opportunities they get in exile.

“When kids come and they don’t get an education, we see a repeat of the war over and over again, because they don’t understand the causes of it,” says Foni, 25, who works on a mentoring programme for young refugees in Kenya.

“Without access to education, it’s easy for someone to come and influence them, to restart the cycle of war again, because they don’t value themselves,” she says.

Foni, who graduated with first class honours from a university in Kenya, is among more than a dozen youth delegates from around the world bringing their experience of conflict and displacement to a high-level meeting in Geneva devoted to obtaining a new global response to record levels of displacement.

Because of the civil war in Sudan, in 1991 her parents fled the southern part of the country, an area that is now part of independent South Sudan.

Some 500 representatives from governments, local authorities, civil society, private companies, academics, international organizations and financial institutions are gathered at the High Commissioner’s 10th Dialogue on Protection Challenges in Geneva on 12 and 13 December.

“We are the future and the future is now.”

Key to the agenda are policies to benefit children and young people who make up more than half of the nearly 66 million people driven from their homes worldwide by wars and persecution.

Also attending is Arash Bordbar, 24, a refugee who left Iran at 16 and studied for a high school certificate online while in Malaysia, before eventually moving to Australia two years ago where he studies civil engineering. He also stresses the importance of giving displaced children and young people opportunities to unlock their potential.

“We are the future and the future is now,” says Arash. “Young refugees have a lot of talent and they are very ambitious. So if you can prepare them for the future, it would be better for everyone.”

Reception for refugee youth delegates

What should the world do to help refugees? (Sylvie Francis, producer / Boris Weber, camera-editor)

He adds: “Give them the opportunity to study, to learn or to work, which would be beneficial to the host country and the resettlement country.”

Aya Mohammed Abdullah, who fled Iraq via Syria, has since settled in Switzerland with her family. She shares a sense of the potential that refugee youth have to find solutions to the conflicts that have driven them from their homes.

Aya, 22, who addressed the meeting on the opening day, told UNHCR earlier: “We youth can be the game changers … we can change things for the better, and we can start to build peace … we need to do that now, not in the distant future,” noting that education is the key to allowing them to lead useful lives.

“We are intelligent, and we have the power to make a positive change in the world.”

“Children and youth should be educated to build their future by themselves … we need that. I need to be educated to go back to my country some day and work on building it, or even my child could to the same … It’s key to everything.”

The two-day forum in Geneva gives young refugees the opportunity to address policymakers and sit on panels, sharing their views and experiences. Chatting on the sidelines of the event, all agree on the importance of access to education for young refugees.

Some delegates stressed the importance of giving young refugees the chance to participate in the decisions that will affect their lives, among them Safia Ibrahimkhel, 25, an Afghan refugee who was born and grew up in Pakistan.

“I don’t just speak as a youth, but as a female refugee,” she said. “Young refugees and women … should have the opportunity to take part in the decision making … we have the capacity, we have the potential … we are intelligent, and we have the power to make a positive change in the world.”

She went on to say: "I would like to ask everyone – from the local to the international level – that women should be involved, whether it is education, social, economic or politics. They should give us a chance and they should believe in us."