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Policy advocacy and partnerships for children's rights

UNICEF symposium highlights increasing number of young migrants

© UNICEF/HQ2011-0625/Susan Markisz
Executive Director Anthony Lake addresses Global Migration Group Symposium at UNICEF House, flanked by (from left) John Bingham, Civil Society Representative; Beata Godenzi, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation; Richard Morgan, UNICEF Division of Policy and Practice; Purnima Mane, UN Population Fund; and Lakshmi Puri, UN Women.

By Chris Niles

NEW YORK, USA, 17 May 2011 – UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake has highlighted the increasingly important issue of young people’s migration at an international symposium held at UNICEF House.

“Today more people are on the move than in any previous time in our history. Approximately 214 million people – three per cent of the world’s population – now are living outside their countries of origin. Of these, about 35 million are between the ages of ten and 24,” Mr. Lake said in his opening remarks.

Improving the focus

The Global Migration Group Symposium, which consists of 15 United Nations agencies as well as the International Organization for Migration is meeting in New York for two days.

“It’s an increasingly important issue, one of those issues which we know is hugely important, that affects our lives, all of us in many different ways and yet it doesn’t get the attention I believe that it deserves,” Mr. Lake said.

To address this, the symposium has brought together a wide range of experts whose focus is how to protect the rights of emigrant young people and increase their ability to make the most of their lives. The symposium is being held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly’s informal debate on international migration and development.

© UNICEF/HQ2011-0625/Susan Markisz
United Nations Women Intergovernmental Support and Strategic Partnerships Assistant Secretary-General Lakshmi Puri addresses the Global Migration Group Symposium at UNICEF House.

One of the first steps is to find out more about why young people move. Despite their large numbers, young migrants are largely invisible, and not much is known about them.

“We need to improve the data on young people and migration and we need to listen to what young migrants have to say about their own needs,” said UN Population Fund Deputy Executive Director Purnima Mane.

Human face of migration

Complicating the situation are the various reasons for young people’s migration, which can range from the search for a better life to an escape from persecution and violence, or forced migration in the form of trafficking.

Ms. Mane said that better information would help to inform discussion and policy for those who migrate, and for their countries of origin and destination.

But she said it was important to also remember that behind every migrant is a human face. “By listening to young migrants’ trials and tribulations and involving them in decision making, countries can address their needs,” she said.

The representative of the Swiss government, which funded the symposium, said that globalization is accelerating the movement of young people and it’s important to recognize that this trend is also creating new opportunities.

The benefit of youth

“Children contribute to development and are not just vulnerable young people to be protected,” said the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation’s Head of Global Programme Migration Beata Godenzi.

The benefits of global migration were also emphasized by Ms. Mane, who said that because of modern communications young people are more and more aware of the lack at home and the opportunities abroad—and this was good for destination countries who need younger workers.

“They will take with them their youth, resilience, resourcefulness and perseverance,” she said.



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