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GIVING CHILDHOOD BACK TO REFUGEE CHILDREN: TRANSFORMING THEM INTO ACTIVE AGENTS OF CHANGE FOR THE POST-2015 AGENDA

OMEP is co-sponsoring yet another important side event at the United Nations. This one is entitled Giving Childhood Back to Refugee Children: Transforming Them into Active Agents of Change for the Post-2015 Agenda. It will be held on February 4th from 11:45 – 1:00 at UN Headquarters in New York. The Side Event is taking place as part of the 53rd Session of the Commission for Social Development.

Update:

Summary of comments from Anne-Christine Eriksson, Deputy Director of the UN High Commission on Refugees at a Side Event co-sponsored by OMEP and the NGO Committee on Migration during the 5rd meeting of the UN Commission for Social Development in UN Headquarters in New York submitted by Michelle Cervantes, Senior Policy Coordination Associate, UNHCR Liaison Office.

  • In her intervention, Anne-Christine Eriksson referred to both refugee and non-refugee and urban settings, spoke on the importance of education and building skills and resilience, psycho-social support, partnership, birth registration and prevention of stateless, and also drew upon field examples. Anki emphasized that protecting children is central to UNHCR’s mandate. With children representing half of the world’s refugee population, supporting national child protection systems, mitigating protection risks that children face by upholding principles of asylum and family unity, engaging their families and communities in their protection, advocating for birth registration and quality education, protecting them from abuse, neglect and exploitation and providing specialized services to refugee children with specific needs are key priorities of UNHCR. As you are aware, in situations of forced displacement the proportion of youth and adolescents is often much higher than in stable communities. The experience of displacement can have an extremely detrimental effect on young people at the critical period when they transition from being children on to adulthood. Young people not only face all the protection risks of adults in displacement, it also frequently forces them to take on new roles and responsibilities that may put them at greater risk.
  • Psycho-social caring practices and early childhood stimulation are essential for the well-being and physical and mental development of young refugee children. Anki cited, for instance, example in Sana’a, Yemen, where UNHCR and Educate a Child have partnered seeking to enroll children who are not in school and retain children in school. There is a parent and care-giver support group and the group holds informal sessions during which caregivers can raise concerns with their peers and discuss while the staff can provide appropriate guidance. Through the support group, this initiative seeks to eliminate corporal punishment at home, to reduce domestic violence and to provide a safe environment that promotes the child’s psychological well-being. The project, therefore, not only improves family support for children, but as a consequence improves children’s academic performance and prevents children from dropping out of school.  I have included a recent UNHCR thematic update which elaborates on UNHCR’s work in Yemen, including briefly on health, nutrition, education, livelihood activities, community empowerment and self-reliance, and vulnerable refugee groups.

UNHCR Thematic Update:  Yemen – Urban Refugee Programme Update, December 2014,

http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home/opendocPDFViewer.html?docid=54c64e489&query=refugee%20children

  • As Dadaab refugee camp was highlighted in a few panel interventions and also emphasis made on the importance of education, there is a timely article on the UNHCR website’s News Stories, published today, 4 February 2015 –“Innovation: Instant Network Schools open up a new world for Somali refugees”, reporting from Dadaab, Kenya: http://www.unhcr.org/54d21aa26.html

Additionally, Anki spoke of the need to build on the resilience strength and determination of refugee children by listening to them, understand their needs and engage them as equal partners to find the best ways to keep them safe, protect their rights and achieving a better future for them. For example, in Dadaab, Kenya, UNHCR worked with an international NGO to establish several Child Education and Welfare Centres. These centres provided children and adolescents with opportunities to learn, develop and acquire contextually relevant skills and strengthen their resilience through providing a safe environment in which parents can be sure their children will be cared for. The parents are also provided opportunities to be involved in an active way to increase their participation and self-confidence to protect and care for children.

  • The topic of ‘play’ was also raised. Anki  also cited UNHCR’s support of a Morocco Playground project that brings together hosts communities and associations with youth from divergent backgrounds – including refugees, asylum seekers, and out-of-school local youth – to play  basketball.  The Morocco project’s activities are not limited to sports – trained coaches engage the youth – both boys and girls – and local community through a series of free activities designed to enhance life-skills and local integration, both for refugee and local youth who might struggle with belonging.  The initiative takes a community-based approach in its selection and training of coaches, as well as in its cultivation of leadership among participating youth and adolescents by enabling them to take on increased roles and responsibilities. The program draws on the capacity of youth, coaches, and their communities to strengthen social cohesion, communication and understating within and between groups at no cost to the participants and the greater community.

For further general information, please see chapter in UNHCR Global Appeal 2014-2015 and the 2015 Global Appeal Update, “Ensure protection for people of concern”, http://www.unhcr.org/528a0a11b.html and http://www.unhcr.org/5461e5ee0.html (respectively).