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Introduction: Durable Solutions During Transient Years

Marisa O. Ensor and Elzbieta M. Gozdziak

In the late summer of 2015, pictures of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy who drowned as his family was forced to flee the city of Kobani to find refuge in Europe, pulled at the heartstrings of the global public. Aylan was one among the thousands of children who, alone or with their families, have had to flee their homes in recent years because of war and persecution. Millions of girls and boys around the world are currently “forced migrants,” a broad category that encompasses refugees, asylum seekers, internally displaced, returnees, stateless, and survivors of disasters and human trafficking. According to UNICEF, some 15,000

M.O. Ensor (*) E.M. Gozdziak

Institute for the Study of International Migration (ISIM), Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA

© The Author(s) 2016

M.O. Ensor, E.M. Gozdziak (eds.), Children and Forced Migration, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40691-6_1

unaccompanied children have fled Syria to Europe during the recent wave of forced migration. With the Syrian conflict in its fifth year and showing little sign of waning, some 306,000 Syrian children have been born en route to finding a safe haven or in countries of first asylum (UNICEF 2016; see also Price, chapter “Enduring Solutions in the Midst of “Crisis”: Refugee Children in Europe”, in this book).

As argued in our earlier book, Children and Migration: At the Crossroads ofResiliency and Vulnerability, migrant children “.. .often find themselves standing at the crossroads of conflicting priorities regarding local and global issues of poverty, (under)development environmental degradation, conflict, and displacement” (Ensor and Gozdziak 2010, 4). Public concern for the plight of these youngsters has increased exponentially, as forced displacement has escalated in the few years that have elapsed since that earlier book was published. Indeed, in 2010 there were an average of 11,000 people being displaced by conflict daily. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the following year was marked by more than 14,000 being displaced every day; in 2012 the number increased to 23,000, with 32,000 forced out of their homes and countries in 2013 and 42,500 in 2014. Although no definite official figures for 2015 were available at the time of writing, 2015 is believed to have exceeded all previous records for global forced displacement. The UNHCR has projected figures of “people of concern” to be 61.5 million in 2016. More than half the world’s refugees are girls and boys under the age of 18.

In addition, countless young people are forced migrants who slip under the radar of institutional registration and data collection. Despite the fact that the total number of displaced children cannot be ascertained with great accuracy, it is evident that this is a phenomenon of immense proportion. Their lives—as well as those of their parents, extended family, and community—have been reshaped in diverse and significant ways by their experiences of violence and uprootedness. With 15 new or reignited conflicts during the past five years alone, record numbers of children and their families have had to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere. The international community has struggled to respond to the sudden growth in forced displacement and find short-term solutions to the immediate humanitarian needs as well as longer-term durable developmental solutions and resolutions.

Moreover, the official end of conflict rarely signifies the cessation of violence or the automatic (re)establishment of the rule of law and human rights protection. Limited opportunities and additional displacement similarly remain common features of life in many postwar societies. For children and youth, the search for viable solutions typically prioritizes needs and aspirations that reflect the transient nature of their age group, and these often differ from those of their elders. Additional difficulties are posed by the inconsistent definition and uneven implementation of the traditional “durable solutions” to forced displacement (i.e., voluntary repatriation, local integration, and resettlement to a third country) on the part of the international regime, supranational organizations, national governments, and humanitarian assistance agencies. Gendered and intergenerational differences regarding the impact and perceived desirability of these or other alternatives are rarely considered. They thus remain largely unexamined and insufficiently understood, impeding the transition from humanitarian aid to human development.

Although forced migration scholarship and practice both have been traditionally dominated by attention to the circumstances of political refugees, conflict is but one of several significant triggers of worldwide dislocation. Nepal is struggling to rebuild its infrastructure decimated by the 2014 earthquake; the Ebola crisis stalled economic progress for a number of West African economies; 2.5 million people are at risk for food insecurity in Central America because of El Nino-related droughts; and thousands of Honduran, Nicaraguan, and Salvadoran children and adolescents fleeing violence have arrived at the US’s southern border starting in 2014. A UNICEF-commissioned report recently warned that 462 million girls and boys, a quarter of the world’s school-age children, were living in areas affected by humanitarian crises (ODI 2016). When poor countries and vulnerable people are impacted by geological or environmental extremes that overwhelm their already compromised coping capacities, displacement within or across international borders often follows.

All varieties of forced migration impact the lives of children both at individual and societal levels. “Moreover, the effects can be immediate and direct or may be more diffuse and long-term: as in situations of protracted exile spanning generations or within families engaged in resettlement” (Hart 2014, 385). Traditional approaches to understanding and improving the situation of child refugees and other young forced migrants, however, have tended to disregard their individual experiences as children and adolescents, with their needs and priorities customarily being subsumed under those of their adult counterparts. This book aims at correcting this imbalance by presenting research that explores the lifescapes of girls and boys, whose age-related priorities were investigated rather than assumed a priori, in a variety of forced migration circumstances.

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