Growing up is challenging. Here you are, a 17-year old soon-to-become adult, going to school while enjoying a careless and easy-going life. Then suddenly, you are a 22-year old in constant pursuit of a stable job and in desperate search for your place in this world.
Growing up is even more testing for refugees: boys and girls, who unexpectedly found themselves in another country, in a foreign environment. Childhood was over very quickly. Some of them, at only 10 years old, had to find a part-time job, learn a new language and help their parents with translation and adaptation.
It is not only about the smooth integration any more. They are not students who came to a country aching to study in the university of their dreams; nor are they impassioned backpackers travelling the world. They are just people who want to live safely with their families.
A successful integration requires to have overcome many obstacles: the maze of legal issues, unstable housing, the language barrier, psychological challenges, limited opportunities in education and work as well as the feeling of loneliness from being far away from family. It is no surprise that one of the key UNHCR objectives is community-based protection of rights: creating a stable and favourable environment for refugees to develop and study.
Youth comprises the main force behind any change. Youngsters are flexible, open-minded, enthusiastic about learning new things and hoping for a better future. Community-based protection projects are jointly organised with refugees in order to create opportunities they are willing to embrace.
A group of such young refugees and asylum seekers launched Youth Integration Club, a project aimed at fostering social integration and creating an atmosphere of tolerance, mutual respect and equality. The project appeared to be successful and even managed to win a special grant from UNCHR Regional Bureau in Europe.
Ali Turabi is an active member of the project. He has been living in Ukraine for 11 years. He managed to learn Ukrainian and now studies aviation and rocket technologies at the National Aviation University.
“Several years ago I participated in a programme called “Statesman”. The 10-day intensive marathon of lectures and seminars gave me a lot of impetus and sufficient knowledge to create my own team, form a structure and begin to implement this project. Upon finishing the programme and returning home, I immediately wrote my vision for this organisation, the role of participants and our tasks. Today it is more than just a project. I plan to register my own NGO and develop it to a level where we could help refugees not only in Ukraine, but in other countries too.”
“If we want to integrate successfully in Ukrainian society, it is important to have support from the host community”.
Ali and his team have already hosted several online seminars aimed at young people living in refugee hosting countries. Have they not only raised awareness about displacement and migration, but they also created a platform for inter-cultural dialogue. This was potent enough for creating a tolerant and understanding society. They also organised an online meeting with children from Kyiv social rehabilitation centre, who were happy to speak with refugees and learn about their countries. A group of active refugees and asylum seekers joined Ukrainian language courses organised by Rokada, a charity foundation and partner organisation of UNCHR.
Youth Integration Club has more projects in the making: speaking courses, movie showings, cooking seminars. For YIC, it is important to involve Ukrainian youth as well:
“It is highly important for Ukrainians to join us. We have a multinational team now with every one of them having a unique experience and worldview. However, if we want to integrate successfully in Ukrainian society, it is important to have support from the host community. Our main objective is to help those who have just arrived.”
Participants agree that such projects promote mutual understanding of both refugees and Ukrainians.
“I like to speak with Ukrainians. This broadens my mind and gives me possibilities to develop”, said Federico, a refugee from Kyrgyzstan.
UNCHR and Rokada along with All-Ukrainian Youth Centre organised a seminar for YIC at the beginning of December. It helped young refugees strengthen their team, evaluate their own projects and shape their plans for the future.
“When I take part in YIC’s activities I feel very comfortable. I can be myself here. I can say everything I want and not be judged because of my hijab. I think that a successful integration is when you are treated seriously and people don’t try to change you or shape your mind. Successful integration is when you are an equal part of society”, said Maryam, refugee from Uzbekistan.
Stereotyping, intolerance and bias are still obstacles to the integration of refugees in Ukrainian society. People are afraid of the unknown. Their reaction is usually negative or even aggressive toward what they don’t understand. Therefore, offering new and different activities make it possible for people of different cultures, languages, races and religions to speak with each other, share emotions and opinions. Such activities are highly important in overcoming these issues.
“Unfortunately, the majority of young people feel a lack of support or counsel on how to successfully overcome discrimination and bias in order to integrate and ultimately become independent and capable of self-realisation. The role of UNHCR is like the one of a guarding angel. We show support, we watch, we help people develop until they are self-reliant, but we don’t forcibly shape their mind in a certain way. We are always here to help, advise and inspire”, said Marianna Kippa, UNHCR Senior Protection Assistant.
Do you know this saying? “If you want to go faster, you should go alone. If you want to go far, you should go together.” A friendly environment is very important for young people who build their lives in Ukraine: an environment with people who are always there to support and motivate them while they are on the path to their dreams.
This article was edited thanks to the support of an online volunteer Sarah Vallée. Find volunteering opportunities at https://www.onlinevolunteering.org/en