Migrant and refugee youth voices must be heard and taken seriously: That was one of the central messages of the inaugural Youth Forum held in in Marrakech last December. The event was part of the “migration week” and took place between the GFMD and UN Conference on the Global Compact for Migration. So Young Chang participated in the Forum and thankfully agreed to share her observations in this blogpost:
Youth and children make up one third of the international migrant population and we deserve a seat at the table to speak about our experiences and represent our own interests. This was the resounding theme at the inaugural Youth Forum in Marrakech, Morocco that took place on 8-9 December before the International Conference on Migration to adopt the Global Compact for Migration. This was a youth-led, youth-oriented event organized by the UN Major Group for Children and Youth (UNMGCY) and its Migration Working Group which has a global network of members and regional contact points. With 160 participants under the age of 30 hailing from 46 countries, the two-day conference offered an opportunity for knowledge-sharing across regions and themes and most importantly consolidated the message that youth participation on the future of migration governance is organized, meaningful, and necessary.
The forum kicked off with opening statements by high-level speakers who affirmed their commitment to supporting youth representation. Louise Arbour, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for International Migration emphasized that the best way to ensure safe migration for the more vulnerable younger generation is for children and youth to become their own advocates. Laura Thompson, the Deputy Director-General of the IOM mentioned the fact that we currently have the largest generation of young people and we need creative ways for facilitating inter-generational communication. Laurence chandy, the Director of Data, Research, and Policy at UNICEF introduced a social messaging tool called U-Report (http://ureport.in/) which allows UNICEF to gather responses from youth via SMS and generate statistics such as that 44% of migrant youth (aged 14-24) reported having travelled alone on their journey. Finally, Rader Diabate, a youth migrant who made the journey from Cote D’Ivoire to Italy drove home the message that “to decide without someone is to decide against someone,” demanding that youth voices be heard and taken seriously.
On the first day, there were three sessions of parallel workshops on the following topics:
- GFMD Youth Rapporteurs’ reportage
- Migration policy: the impact of narratives
- Human trafficking
- Labour and decent jobs for migrants
- Climate change migration
- Migration and health
- Gender and migration
- Integration through sports
- Integration and advocacy through the arts
- UNICEF: Advocacy through social media
- Exchanges through non-formal education
- Virtual & physical communities for migrants
Several workshops featured guest experts from relevant organizations, such as UN Women for the Gender and Migration theme. The smaller breakout format of the event allowed the participants to pose questions freely and share their experiences of working in their respective communities. I attended the session on GFMD Youth Rapporteurs’ reportage from attending the GFMD Civil Society Days and Common Space, which made me reflect on the importance of geographic diversity in youth representation. Each Rapporteur who represented a different region took way unique insights from their participation: for Latin America, there was a gap in addressing the connection between gang violence and forced migration and for the Asia-Pacific, climate change-induced migration was the blind spot.
On the second day of the forum, the participants divided into their regions of nationality (Europe, Africa, Americas, Asia, and MENA) and had two consecutive sessions on discussing regional priorities and also developing individual action plans for implementing the GCM in our own communities. Much like the spirit of civil society at the GFMD and People’s Global Action, the focus was on being agents of positive action by taking ownership of the GCM language and momentum rather than waiting for governments to grant the space.
Towards the future
The youth forum closed on a note of optimism, with a statement from a government representative of Ecuador (the 2019 host of the GFMD) expressing their support for continued youth participation. UNMGCY has been involved in GFMD proceedings since 2014 and the youth forum is also expected to return. Youth are now an institutionalized presence at global fora; case in point is the opening statement at the ICM delivered by Cheryl Perera, the UNMGCY nominated speaker and founder of Onechild (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yghl9DKTw-0).
The Youth Forum successfully brought together a critical mass of global youth to learn and strategize together ahead of the historic adoption of the GCM. However, the GCM was not the beginning and end of youth advocacy on migration and the forum was surely the culmination of long-running efforts by the UNMGCY and its member organizations to expand and cohere connectivity among youth leaders. To their credit, the organizing committee took on the importance (and logistics) of inclusivity and did their best to provide hostel accommodation for participants as well as travel stipends. As the forum matures and gains more clout, it would be great to see youth representation become even more diverse, not just in terms of nationalities but in terms of experiences beyond the English-speaking and already-well-connected youth. For reasons of information access, resource availability, and educational background, global youth gatherings often have the caveat of amplifying privilege (arguably, this is true of global gatherings at any level). But of course, we must begin somewhere and the Youth Forum was a promising start to more prominent global youth action on migration.
UNMGCY Migration Working Group website: https://www.unmgcy.org/youth4migration (interested youth can join either as individuals or organizations)
UNMGCY Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/unmgcy/
So Young Chang is a Research Fellow with the Every Immigrant Is an Emigrant project (https://www.giga-hamburg.de/en/project/every-immigrant-is-an-emigrant-how-migration-policies-shape-the-paths-to-integration ) at GIGA Institute of Global and Area Studies. She is also pursuing her PhD at Bielefeld University on the subject of migrant domestic workers.