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Making Human Rights a Reality for Refugee Children: A Prerequisite to Local Integration as a Durable Solution

Emily Arnold-Fernandez

In the Hollywood movie The Good Lie, four young Sudanese refugees resettle from the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to the central United States. Almost unnoticed in the movie is their friend James, who remains behind. He is seen only in brief cameos throughout the years: Each time the main character, Mamere, returns to Kakuma from the USA, James is still in the camp, still waiting for a chance at a normal life. Despite the movie’s focus on resettled refugees, James’s story is far more typical of refugee children today. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that refugees spend an average of 17 years in exile (UNHCR 2006, 109), and other agencies suggest the true figure may be even higher (Refugee Studies Center 2011).

In fact, each year less than 2 % of the global refugee population is “resettled” or obtains asylum in the USA, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. “Resettlement” here refers to the practice of moving a refugee from a country in which he or she has sought refuge to another country for the purpose of permanent settlement. Children born

E. Arnold-Fernandez (*)

Asylum Access, Oakland, CA, USA © The Author(s) 2016

M.O. Ensor, E.M. Gozdziak (eds.), Children and Forced Migration, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40691-6_10

to refugees, and new refugees created by continued warfare or persecution flare ups, more than fill the spaces left by the few refugees who are resettled. Many refugee children today will spend their entire childhood and beyond without a stable home.

This author’s organization, Asylum Access, works with and for some of these refugee children. In locations across Ecuador, in Panama City, Panama, Tenosique, and the Distrito Federal in Mexico; in Bangkok, Thailand, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and at times in Tanzania’s northwest where refugee camps are located, Asylum Access helps refugee children understand and assert their human rights.

These human rights, in theory, should allow refugee children to move easily from exile to a durable solution, when and as they and their parents or guardians choose to do so. The term “durable solution” is used in the refugee response field to connote a stable, permanent life situation for a refugee (UNHCR: “Durable Solutions”). Resettlement, repatriation, which requires an end to war or persecution and a return to stability, and local integration are commonly understood in refugee response as the options for a durable solution.

Under international law, a refugee like James may not lawfully be relegated to a life behind barbed wire—unable to move, to attend local schools alongside children of his host nation, to matriculate at university, or to get a job. Instead, international law grants refugee children a host of rights that, in theory, facilitate their ability to take up the durable solution most readily available to most of them: local integration. In practice, refugees’ human rights are often no more than words on paper, ignored by host countries and by the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), multilateral agencies, and donor governments who comprise the global refugee response system. Turning these paper promises into reality—thus giving refugee children access to local integration as a durable solution— requires a new mode of refugee response, which is one that Asylum Access has tested and refined over the past decade.

This chapter sets forth the current state of both law and practice related to refugees’ human rights; describes Asylum Access’s approach, which attempts to better align law and practice, often in the face of hostility or indifference from refugee-hosting countries and/or participants in the refugee response system; and discusses how the alignment of prac?tice with rights offers a promising avenue for enabling refugee children to achieve local integration as a durable solution.

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