Young refugees demand action on rights for displaced in manifesto

16 November 2023

Young refugees are calling for world leaders to improve their access to education, information, health services, decision-making, and legal rights in a powerful youth manifesto being presented at the Global Refugee Forum in December, the first time ever such a manifesto has been put to governments.

“No-one is an expert in refugee issues more than refugees themselves. If we ignore this, that’s the problem.”

Baraka Damien, refugee

A total of 17 young refugees around the world – including Syria, DRC, Venezuela and Jordan – came together to write the manifesto, supported by children’s rights organisation, Plan International, together with partners.

“We wish for all refugee children, regardless of the reasons such as economic constraints or health issues, to have the opportunity to return to school,” said Maher Al-Midaani, 21, a refugee from Syria, now resident in Jordan.

“We’re passionate about supporting young female refugees who were married at a young age, ensuring they can continue their education. We wish a genuine interest from host communities in the educational well-being of refugee students.”

The manifesto calls for governments to listen to young refugee voices, and to work closely with young people to support policy changes, fund and put programmes in place to bring a more inclusive and brighter future for all young refugees.

Young refugees must be supported and empowered

“We need a fundamental change in the way that young refugees are supported and empowered,” said Baraka Damien, 20, a refugee from Burundi, living in Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Malawi, who said working on the manifesto represented a ‘beacon of hope’. “We need to move from being passive recipients to active participants in our own destinies.”

“Governments, international organisations, refugee rights advocacy organizations, and NGOs need to establish strategic alliances and work closely with young people, to influence policy changes, gather funding, and put programs in place that will bring in a more inclusive and brighter future for all young refugees,” continued Baraka. “The truth is that no-one is an expert in refugee issues more than refugees themselves. If we ignore this, that is the problem.”

In some countries, refugees are sometimes deprived of basic rights, say the young people, with no opportunity to pursue education, work legally, or fully integrate into society, even though refugees legally have the right to access these services. There are also cases in which refugees are not legally able to access services and the labour market, nor have freedom of movement, due to restrictive encampment policies. 

“The governments have the key to establish laws and policies that allows refugees to get employed and support themselves,” said Zawadi, Ombeni, 20, a refugee from DRC living in Malawi. “It is their responsibility to prioritise and allocate resources to ensure inclusive and equitable opportunities for all refugees.”

Manifesto to be presented to world leaders

The Youth Manifesto will be presented to world leaders at the Global Refugee Forum (GRF), taking place in Geneva between 13th and 15th December 2023. The UN event is an opportunity for governments and other bodies to make concrete and ambitious pledges to improve the lives of refugee children, in particular girls and women.

The first GRF took place in 2019, a milestone in building solidarity with the world’s refugees, and the countries and communities hosting them.

“We demand transformative change, where every youth, regardless of age, gender, or background, has equal access to education and employment,” concluded Zawadi.