Ahead of key UN-backed Marrakech migration conference, youth recount harrowing journeys

UN Photo/Mark Garten A scupltural figure representing a person on the move in the grounds of the Global Compact for Migration conference taking place in Marrakesh, Morocco. December 2018)

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.

Paving the way to the key UN migration conference in Marrakech, Morocco, which it is hoped will agree new measures to make life safer and more dignified for people on the move, UN agencies held a series of side events to highlight the different aspects of migration, paying special attention to the most vulnerable, and the challenges they face on their often perilous journeys.

The UN Special Representative for International Migration, Ms. Louise Arbour, opened the Youth Forum segment at the conference, asserting the importance of making “migration policies consistently uphold children’s rights and best interests.”

“One guiding principle of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration is the promotion of existing international legal obligations in relation to the rights of the child and the need to uphold the principle of the best interests of the child at all times,” said the Special Representative.

“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, in a press release.According to a poll conducted by the UN Children’s Fund UNICEF, that surveyed nearly 4,000 refugees and migrants – aged 14 to 24 – more than half of the respondents revealed that they were forced to leave their countries, while 44 per cent did so of their own volition.

Mr. Chandy urged states to make migration safe, through adopting the Global Compact for Migration (GCM), and the commitments and actions proposed in it, saying that “migration is inevitable, but the danger and discrimination experienced by refugee and migrant children doesn’t have to be.”

He explained that “the GCM provides an operating manual for local and national authorities on good practices and approaches for the benefit of uprooted children.”

The number of children surveyed by UNICEF is a drop in the ocean compared to the actual number of children on the move. Ms. Arbour pointed out that “there are 258 million migrants globally, 50 million of whom are children.”

“Against this background it is important to remember that the Global Compact is a re-affirmation that human rights belong to us all, regardless of migration status. The Compact emphasises this and places added focus on the most vulnerable, including children,” she said.

An artistic display representing migration in the conference centre of the Global Compact for Migration meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco. (December 2018)

In an effort to shed more light on the issue, UNICEF joined by the host government, Morocco, opened an art exhibition titled “Journey of a Young Migrant: Bringing Stories Alive Through Art”.

Kader, a young Ivorian migrant spoke of his experience travelling alone, on one of the world’s most dangerous migration routes, across the Mediterranean Sea to Italy where he has found a new home. He recounted to the audience the solace migrants seek, from the objects they bring with them.

“You are confident, you are more strong when you see that you have that object with you,” Said Kader, who brought a book with him on his voyage, explaining its huge importance.

“My father used to say, ‘when you travel bring three things with you. A book, a pair of shoes and a pen.’ The book will give you the knowledge. I will be learning. I took also some stuff from my mommy, because I am very tied to my mommy.”

UN Youth Envoy, Jayathma Wickramanayake, was among the attendees, and spoke of her last visit to Cox’s Bazaar, in Bangladesh, where more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees are seeking shelter from atrocious rights abuses in Myanmar: “Most of the young people in the camp are not in school… in the camp there are about 117,000 young people with only 2,000 of them having access to any type education.”

Pointing to a photo in the exhibit of a young Rohingya girl holding a book, the Youth Envoy said that “In a situation like that, the fact that a young person, a young women specifically, is holding on to a book, actually tells us a lot about what their hopes and expectations are for the future.”

UNICEF’s poll shows the vulnerability of young people on the move, with 58% of respondents reporting that they had sacrificed one or more years of school,. Nearly half of them were unable to see a doctor when they needed one, and 38% received no help from anyone – family, friends or institutions.

Commenting on the poll, Mr. Chandy said that ‘uprooted children can teach us a great deal about their needs and vulnerabilities if we are willing to hear them

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