Refugee and migrant children and youth report severe deprivations while on the move

UNICEF releases alarming data from poll of nearly 4,000 refugee and migrant children and youth ahead of Global Compact for Migration Summit in Marrakech “I am just used to suffering, and now I view it as normal” – migrant youth from Kenya

07 December 2018
A migrant sits in a patch of light entering through a window

GENEVA/MARRAKECH, 7 December 2018 – Two thirds of respondents in a UNICEF poll of nearly 4,000 refugees and migrants – aged 14 to 24 – revealed that they were forced to leave their countries, while almost half did so alone.

‘A Right to be Heard: Listening to children and young people on the move’ provides alarming insights into the challenges and deprivations faced by young refugees and migrants as they make the journey in search of safety and a better life.

The report is based on an analysis of information collected over the past three months through an online poll of some 4,000 self-identified refugee and migrant youth. Results from the poll point to major gaps in the support and services available to uprooted young people.

“While politicians are squabbling over migration, 4,000 uprooted children and young people are telling us they need more support,” said Laurence Chandy, Director of Data, Research and Policy for UNICEF. “We must do a better job of listening to and engaging with those whose lives hang in the balance. As this poll shows, uprooted children can teach us a great deal about their needs and vulnerabilities if we are willing to hear them.” 

Nearly 90 per cent of the respondents participated from countries in Africa, Asia and Europe. They answered from countries that either send migrants and refugees, the Syrian Arab Republic or Ukraine, for example, or host them, such as Germany, Turkey and Uganda. While the poll is not representative of the experiences of all refugee and migrant youth, it provides a rare platform for uprooted children and youth to have their voices and concerns heard.

UNICEF has released the results of the youth poll a few days ahead of the Intergovernmental Conference on the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) in Marrakech, Morocco – when world leaders will meet to formally adopt the GCM, the first-ever inter-governmental agreement on a common approach to every dimension of migration. The release of the poll results is intended to help world leaders and those gathered for the conference in Marrakech understand the implications of migration policies for children.

“Migration is inevitable, but the danger and discrimination experienced by refugee and migrant children doesn’t have to be,” said Chandy. “States have an opportunity to make migration safe. The commitments and actions proposed in the GCM – including upholding the best interests of children at all times and incorporating migrant children into national child protection systems – are both practical and doable. The GCM provides an ‘operating manual’ for local and national authorities on good practices and approaches for the benefit of uprooted children.”

Key findings presented in the poll analysis include:

  • 67 per cent of respondents were forced to leave their countries
  • 44 per cent of respondents left their home country alone
  • 58 per cent of respondents reported having lost one or more years of school
  • 49 per cent of respondents reported having not seen a doctor when needed
  • 38 per cent of respondents have received no help from anyone – family, friends or institutions

UNICEF continues to urge governments in countries of origin, transit and destination to prioritize the best interests of children in the development and application of migration policies and procedures, to keep families together, to end immigration detention of children and families, and to adhere to the principle of non-refoulment.

As this poll shows, there is more to do. It is time to turn words into action by making the investments needed to protect uprooted children and secure their rights. UNICEF is calling for:

  • Providing refugee and migrant children and young people with essential services including education and health care.
  • Strengthening cross-border cooperation to protect children’s rights and support children and young people at each stage of their journey.
  • Investments in disaggregated data on the movements and welfare of uprooted children and young people.
  • Engaging uprooted children and young people as active partners. Listening is not enough; children and young people must also have a seat at the table.

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