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Children and Forced Migration: Durable and Transitional Solutions

The end of the Cold War gave way to heightened hopes for a resolution to the plight of millions of forced migrants. This hoped-for “end of the refugee cycle” would entail both the conclusion of the cycle of conflict, persecution, and forced migration and the completion of the cycle for those able—and, presumably, willing—to return to the places they had left behind (Black and Koser 1999). In association with other agencies, UNHCR was directed to provide “international protection to refugees and to assist them finding permanent solutions through voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement” (UNHCR 2004, 36). These strategies were deemed “durable” as they were intended to put an end to the “refugee cycle” and thus the need for international protection. More than 9 million refugees were indeed repatriated between 1991 and 1995, evidencing that this initial optimism was not unjustified in the geopolitical conditions prevalent at that time (Black and Koser 1999). Still, as the chapters included in this book illustrate, subsequent global processes and local events have made clear that finding durable solutions to “end the refugee cycle” is a far more complex, and ultimately a more elusive endeavor than expected.

This book responds to the need to reexamine the applicability of these so-called durable solutions in light of the increased complexity, duration, and magnitude of forced migration worldwide. For displaced children and youth, whose transience is necessarily temporal and developmental, in addition to geopolitical and spatial, the need to consider additional, more flexible and responsive options is vitally important. As the chapters here illustrate, displaced children may be found throughout most, if not all, of the world: in the asylum processing and detention centers in several European states; in the vast refugee camps sprawling in remote areas of Africa; in the countries of the Central American Northern Triangle (i.e., Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador) from where thousands of unaccompanied minors are attempting the trip north to Mexico and the USA; and in Southeast Asia, where members of a stateless minority (i.e., the Rohingya) have been embarking on dangerous sea voyages in pursuit of a better life.

International interest in the human rights issues affecting young people in situations of displacement is increasingly evident. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR have produced relevant documents, including the reports “Unaccompanied Children on the Move” (IOM 2011) and “Children on the Run” (UNHCR 2014), respectively. Other related organizations, such as UNHCR, regularly track the number of child refugees and internally displaced people (IDP). They have also issued a series of Executive Committee recommendations and guidelines about refugee children (UNHCR 1993, 1994, 1997) intended to clarify and strengthen the protection measures required of all state parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention (as modified by the 1967 Protocol).

Although the number of international, regional, and domestic treaties and guidelines regulating the treatment of displaced children has steadily increased in recent years, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) remains the most important instrument for establishing international standards of protection and care for children in all circumstances, including displaced and returnee children. Of particular relevance is General Comment Number 6 on the Treatment of Unaccompanied and

Separated Children, adopted by the CRC in 2005. Children in forced migration circumstances are, however, “often distanced from state bodies and denied the rights enjoyed by citizens, including those pertaining to freedom of movement and assembly, access to basic services, and family reunification” (Hart 2014, 384).

Furthermore, legal and normative approaches have tended to construct young people as the recipients of adult care and protection: “They belong to families, and it is their families that act upon their behalf and represent their interests” (Ansell 2005, 12). Efforts to investigate and factor in the gendered and intergenerational differences—particularly regarding displacement, return, and reintegration needs and expectations—have thus far been largely absent from this type of approach. Field-based analyses of displacement, return, and reintegration from a sociocultural perspective, on the other hand, have proven mindful of local contexts, often more so than those emphasizing legal and normative frameworks (Freeman and Dinh Huu 2003; Rutter 2006; Watters 2007).

As already noted, safeguarding the rights and well-being of refugees of all ages, and ultimately finding durable solutions that will allow them to rebuild their lives in dignity and peace, has traditionally centered on three primary strategies: voluntary repatriation; local integration; or resettlement to a third country, primarily in situations where it is impossible for a person to go back home or remain in the host country. A quarter of a century ago, Cuny et al. (1992) posited that “..when refugees make a decision to return, they are making a move to re-empower themselves” (20). In certain circles, “going home” has continued to be regarded as offering the strongest hope of putting an end to exile. Considered the international community’s preferred durable solution, repatriation also has been the dominant operational solution since the end of the Cold War.

In contrast with continued pressure by states for refugee return, the past 15 years have seen an increasingly nuanced understanding of the limits of repatriation among international organizations (Human Rights Watch 2008; IRIN 2009; Long 2009). As some of the chapters in this book illustrate (see Ensor, chapter “Refugee Girls and Boys and the Dilemmas of (Un) Sustainable Return to South Sudan”; Fransen and Siegel, chapter “Reintegration of First- and Second-Generation Children

Returned to Burundi: A Multidimensional Approach”) repatriation does not always constitute a durable solution for refugees. Instead, sustainable return currently is recognized to be a long-term process requiring significant state-building efforts to combat state fragility and to ensure good prospects for reconciliation and reintegration (Crisp 2001; Pantuliano et al. 2008; UNDP 2000; UNHCR 2003, 2008a).

As the limits of repatriation began to be recognized, local integration reappeared on the international policy agenda. It also started attracting increased attention from academics and field researchers (Jacobsen 2001; Hovil 2007; Crisp and Fielden 2008). Finding a home in the country of asylum and integrating into the local community offers many forced migrants for whom return is not a viable option the opportunity of starting a new life. As is the case with repatriation, local integration is a complex and gradual process involving legal, economic, social, and cultural dimensions that often impose considerable demands on both refugees and the receiving society. In many cases, acquiring the nationality of the country of asylum is the culmination of this process.

Other forced migrants live in dangerous situations or have specific needs that cannot be addressed in the country in which they have sought protection. In such circumstances, resettlement to a third country is an alternative option. Since the end of the Cold War, however, asylum opportunities in the Global North have been steadily declining, leading to a significant disparity between the numbers of refugees identified by UNHCR as in need of resettlement and the number of places available. This contraction of asylum space has been the focus of considerable research and advocacy work among forced migration scholars, forced migration practitioners, and advocacy groups (Danish Refugee Council 2008; Gibney 2008; Human Rights Watch 2008). As a further alternative, migration schemes also have been attempted in an effort to offer a durable solution to refugees in states that are not party to the 1951 Convention.

To better harmonize international responses with current global contexts, the UN Secretary-General adopted “Decision on Durable Solutions” and an accompanying “Preliminary Framework on Ending Displacement in the Aftermath of Conflict” in October 2011. “While the [Secretary General] Decision explicitly refers to ending displacement in the aftermath of conflict,” the directive also is relevant to other displacement situations. Disasters, generalized violence, human rights violations, and development-related displacement similarly require a rights-based approach and a collective, coherent, and coordinated response” (UNDP and UNHCR 2016, 10). These recent efforts notwithstanding, protection challenges are in many instances prolonged in the absence of viable long-term solutions to displacement (UNHCR 2008b, 41). Currently, the average length of exile for refugees and other forced migrants is 17 years. “That’s the equivalent of a child’s whole shot at education, from birth to high school graduation” (Dryden-Peterson 2015, 1).

A parallel scheme developed on behalf of those in situations of prolonged displacement is the Transitional Solutions Initiative (TSI). Spearheaded by the UN Refugee Agency, the UN Development Program, and other partners, the TSI is a global strategy that seeks to enhance selfreliance, reduce aid dependency, and assist socioeconomic integration by restoring and expanding sustainable livelihood options for refugees and host communities. Responding to the need to invest in the human development of displaced groups while still uprooted, education, training, and capacity-building efforts are often integral components of TSI-inspired interventions (UNDP and UNHCR 2014). Evidence of these initiatives’ success in fostering transition from humanitarian action to development, thereby promoting durable solutions for those involved, to date, is rather limited. Although young people are often the target of these educational opportunities, the role youngsters play, and the concrete benefits they derive from their participation, remain assumed but largely unexamined. Less rigid and more creative approaches befitting twenty-first century conditions are needed.

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