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Young refugees gather to share ideas at UNHCR global summit

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Young refugees gather to share ideas at UNHCR global summit

Around 30 refugees from countries as diverse as Iraq, Haiti and South Sudan gather in Geneva to discuss safety, education and other issues that affect them.
10 June 2016
Young refugees from Rwanda, Congo, Somalia and Angola perform a song written about their experiences at the Global Refugee Youth Consultation in Zambia earlier this year.

GENEVA, June 10 (UNHCR) – Across the world, in countries which could not be more different from one another, young refugees face similar problems and challenges.

These range from education to safety and will be the focus of the Global Refugee Youth Consultation which convenes in Geneva this weekend.

Participants will include Iraqi refugee Sarah Yahya, who now studies in Australia.

Sarah is passionate about the safety of young refugees and the barriers and disadvantages faced by those of them with disabilities.

Half a world away in the United States, Haitian asylum-seeker Descartes Ronaldo Jean Baptiste is pushing for greater recognition for refugees’ school credits in the countries where they resettle.

In Uganda, South Sudanese refugee Simon Marot Touloung has campaigned for better laboratory and library services at the refugee settlement where he studied. He is looking forward to meeting other refugees and sharing ideas.

“Refugee youth know best what they need… We need to be educated, and we need not just education but quality education,” he says.

Sarah, Descartes and Simon are among some 30 young refugees from around the world who will be at the meeting in Geneva from June 12–14.

Jointly organized by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the Women’s Refugee Commission – an international NGO that works to protect and help those displaced by conflict and crisis – it is the culmination of a 12-month process that has sought to give young refugees a voice.

The meetings aim to give them the opportunity to pool their interests and experiences and place their concerns higher on the humanitarian agenda. With young refugees from across the world attending, it is also a chance to create a global network.

Simon Marot Toulong, a South Sudanese refugee living in Uganda, gives a presentation at a meeting in Kampala in this 2015 file photo.

While in Geneva, the young refugees will lead a half-day meeting that will present the findings from the global consultations process to stakeholders including donors, UN organizations, civil society and government representatives.

They will also take part in the annual consultations between UNHCR and non-governmental organizations, the overarching theme of which will be youth.

“Refugee youth often lack access to existing youth networks in their countries of asylum, and by extension the issues that affect them specifically are not understood by other young people,” said Nick Sore, one of the project’s organizers.

“Within the humanitarian sphere there has been a move to reframe the discussion, to shift away from talk of the vulnerabilities and the challenge of youth and to recognise and build upon the capacities and capabilities that young people bring with them,” he said.

Sore stressed that humanitarians must begin to “harness and build upon their untapped potential, to understand their hopes, visions and ideas for the future, to work in partnership with them and provide space and opportunities for them to become leaders.”

Ahead of the gathering, Sarah said the chance to meet other young refugees was inspirational. “To meet them and hear of their experiences and their views… would inspire and encourage many young refugees,” she said. “It would definitely inspire me to keep going.”

Descartes, meanwhile, viewed meeting and networking with other young refugees as a “really important” opportunity. “When I share my stories with other people, and people share their stories with me, I feel like I’m not alone in what I’m going through.”