Children and youth who are stateless, migrants or urban refugees are often unseen and unheard. But with access to support and tools for empowerment, they can develop their potential to advocate for their rights within their homes, schools and communities – no matter their legal status, citizenship or country of origin.
In August, the UNICEF office in Thailand brought together 19 migrant, stateless and urban refugee children and youth for a workshop on empowerment. These children and youth were also joined by 12 representatives from local organizations, including One Sky Foundation, Host International Thailand, Refugee Rights Litigation Project, World Vision Foundation, Sapan-Mai Community, Bangkok Refugee Center and International Detention Coalition, for two activity-packed days of learning about their rights and ways to claim and exercise these rights in their everyday lives.
Too often, children and youth affected by migration are discriminated against and denied access to basic rights and services for education, healthcare and social protection. Lack of legal status also means fewer opportunities to move around and participate fully in society. Simply attending the workshop was a challenge for many young participants, with some requiring official permission to travel outside of their district. Others had been released from immigration detention, according to a Memorandum of Understanding acknowledging that children should not be detained, otherwise only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible time.
“I used to think urban refugee children like us need to accept the fact that we cannot get a graduation certificate or an ID card like others,” said Moni (an alias name), a 16-year-old who settled in an urban area in Thailand after fleeing from Cambodia due to fear of persecution. “But in this workshop, I learned that all children – even children affected by migration, like me and my friends – have the right to education and the right to obtain legal status.”
Moni and her peers were encouraged to work in teams and be open to different points of view. They were able to express their ideas freely and creatively by drawing, performing, playing card games and community mapping, which is a tool for building on and improving a community through identifying its opportunities and resources within.
“I was worried and shy at the beginning because this is my first time joining an activity with other people outside of my community,” said a 15-year-old urban refugee from Vietnam. “But now, I’m more confident in expressing my feelings and sharing my opinions and experiences with new friends.”
Armed with new and powerful tools for making a difference in their communities, each team had come up with a plan of action at the end of the workshop. Some were excited to raise awareness about child rights among their peers, and others planned to organize a day for community garbage collection. Most importantly, they believed in their ability to make a difference.
UNICEF and partners continue to work with and for children and youth affected by migration by centering these young voices and their lived experiences in decision-making spaces. Earlier this year, UNICEF together with the European Union, the Department of Children and Youth, the International Detention Coalition and Terre des Hommes Germany gathered 170 migrant, asylum-seeking, refugee and stateless children and youth to make recommendations to policymakers and contribute to the National Plan on the Rights of Children in the Context of Migration.
Promoting the rights of migrant children is another key focus, which is why UNICEF trained 140 people working in social work, law enforcement and child protection this year on protecting and safeguarding migrant children. Another 88 were trained in ensuring that migrant children can remain with their parents and out of immigration detention. An operation manual developed by UNICEF and partners is also helping 171 social workers meet the protection needs of migrant children.
UNICEF has long worked to break the cycle of statelessness and is helping around 32,000 stateless children attain legal status and Thai citizenship through mobile civil registration units at schools in Thailand’s northern border areas, with the support of the European Union and in partnership with Terre Des Hommes Germany and local partners. UNICEF is also launching a free e-learning course on statelessness with UNHCR and Chiang Mai University this year, intended for the general public, all those working to address statelessness and those who are stateless or undocumented themselves.
Read UNICEF’s newly published guidelines to learn about how you can support the engagement and participation of children affected by migration in decisions that affect their lives and future.