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Home arrow Economics arrow Children and Forced Migration: Durable Solutions During Transient Years

Lessons Learned

When the editors first embarked on this book project, contributors were asked to pay particular attention to two issues. One, to base their chapters on empirical and evidence-based research and/or robust legal analysis. Two, to go beyond discussions of the challenges facing child migrants and those assisting them, to provide concrete recommendations for short-, medium-, and long-term durable solutions, and to include a focus on lessons learned from the research and analyses they conducted. The challenge put forth was to go beyond the traditional durable solutions framework—usually limited to repatriation, resettlement, and local integration schemes—to come up with new approaches and innovative strategies. It was understood by all that the latter was a particularly tall order.

There is considerable literature on durable solutions and migrant children, especially on separated and unaccompanied minors, including “classic” publications by Guy Goodwin-Gill (1995) and Jacqueline Bhabha (2004) (see also Bhabha and Finch 2006). The UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ UNHCR Guidelines on the Formal Determination of the Best Interests of the Child (UNHCR 2008) also is aimed at guiding the United Nations, governments, and others working with children in forced migration situations. Much of what has been written on this topic includes robust discussions of the challenges facing child forced migrants (RCUSA 2013; LIRS 2007); passionate calls to do right by unaccompanied refugee children (Derluyn and Broekaert 2008); and recommendations to provide appropriate measures on reception and care to facilitate the emotional well-being of refugee children and adolescents (Derluyn and Broekaert 2008; Jarkman Bjorn 2013).

Far fewer publications put forth tangible solutions to the plight of forcibly displaced children and adolescents (e.g., Kaime 2004; LIRS 2007). Part of the difficulty lays in the fact that forcibly displaced youngsters are hardly a homogenous category. Therefore, tailored, context- specific options must be found to address the complex and changing needs of young transient populations fleeing the ever-growing number of humanitarian crises that are continuing, emerging, or reigniting in various regions of the globe.

A very recent initiative, jointly launched by the UNHCR and UNICEF on February 26, 2016, is the “Blue Dots Hub.” It intends to offer increased protection for the growing numbers of children along the most frequently used migration routes in Europe. The 20 Child and Family Support Hubs, known as “Blue Dots,” will provide a safe space for children and their families, vital services, play areas, protection, and counseling to vulnerable forced migrants on the move, especially the many unaccompanied or separated children at risk of sickness, trauma, violence, exploitation, and trafficking. In the words of Volker Turk, UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner for Protection:

We are concerned about the welfare of unaccompanied boys and girls on the move and unprotected across Europe, many of whom have experienced war and hardship in making these journeys alone. The hubs will play a key role in identifying these children and providing the protection they need in an unfamiliar environment, where they may be at risk (UNHCR 2016b).

Any initiative seeking to draw attention to the specific needs of youngsters in situations of forced migration is, in principle, a welcome effort. On the other hand, programs, such as the Blue Dots Hubs, that nar?rowly focus on children’s protection needs while in transit cannot reasonably be expected to contribute to the provision of durable solutions for their long-term situation. This is particularly the case when the emphasis remains centered on their vulnerabilities, with little attention paid to their aspirations and the significant contributions children can make to their own well-being, as well as to that of their families and communities, provided they are equipped with the right opportunities. At this point, there is not even concrete evidence that the hubs adequately address the most immediate needs of children and adolescents. Few programs of this sort result in initial evaluations of the proposed initiatives.

As the chapters included in this book indicate, authors whose work was grounded in field research delivered contributions chockfull of dense ethnographic descriptions. Contributors have presented insiders’ perspectives, particularly the opinions, needs, and aspirations of the girls and boys they studied, and often juxtaposed these perspectives with insights elicited from service providers (Gozdziak, chapter “What Kind of Welcome? Addressing the Integration Needs of Central American Children and Adolescents in US Local Communities”), government officials (Ensor, chapter “Refugee Girls and Boys and the Dilemmas of (Un)Sustainable Return to South Sudan”), and parents (Losoncz, chapter “Finding Better Ways to Support Resettled Refugee Families Dealing with Intergenerational Conflict”). The authors all embraced approaches that are holistic, conscious of local settings, and mindful of global realities in order to provide context for programmatic and policy decision making. Those contributors whose chapters are based on policy analysis (Price, chapter “Enduring Solutions in the Midst of “Crisis”: Refugee Children in Europe”; Luangrath, chapter “No Date on the Door: Direct Provision Housing, Child Asylum-Seekers, and Ireland’s Violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”) offer a nuanced understanding of current laws and policies and their shortcomings. The book’s editors are hopeful that, equipped with these data and analyses, policymakers will not have to make decisions in an empirical vacuum.

Several broad lessons learned run throughout all of the book’s chapters. First, solutions to many of the challenges faced by young forced migrants require macrolevel responses. The unfolding “migration crisis” in Europe demands action by the European Union (EU) and its member states.

European countries need to abide by the acquis communautaire, making sure children and their families are registered properly and that those seeking asylum have an opportunity to do so. Europe must remain a continent of asylum, adopting a comprehensive approach to the so-called “refugee crisis” based on a common responsibility and, more important, a common solidarity. Regrettably, the response mechanisms that have been proposed by the EU lack a child’s rights perspective and pay scant attention to the specific vulnerabilities and needs of children. Indeed, some EU responses are contrary to the best interests of the child principle (see chapter “Enduring Solutions in the Midst of “Crisis”: Refugee Children in Europe”).

As Nando Sigona and Jennifer Allsop (2016) indicate: “Until the EU recognizes the specific needs of child migrants and makes it a priority to swiftly reunite them with family members, many will likely continue to abscond from the reception system.” Indeed, some 10,000 children have “disappeared” after arriving in EU countries. These “disappearances” have little to do with trafficking networks operating in Europe. Many unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors were not snatched by criminals—as the media would like everyone to believe—but rather left reception centers frustrated with the slow asylum process, the inadequate training of officials, and a lack of employment opportunities.

Second, there is a need to revisit traditional notions of durable solutions as fixed, inflexible answers to the plight of forced child migrants. Considering the example of the South Sudan, Marisa O. Ensor illustrates this issue in chapter “Refugee Girls and Boys and the Dilemmas of (Un) Sustainable Return to South Sudan” by calling for careful analysis of the role the humanitarian community plays in creating “refugee subjects” and shaping their visions of “return” and long-term nation-building. Return and (re) integration—or for that matter resettlement—should not be understood as incompatible with continued mobility and migratory livelihood strategies. Especially in fragile post-conflict states with an inadequate capacity to meet their citizens’ basic social and economic needs, unsupported physical return actually may harm reconstruction efforts by exacerbating state fragility, even as refugees’ political repatriation continues to be regarded as a necessary condition for recovery and strengthening of the state.

Similarly, refugees resettled in a third country have a right to secondary migration within the resettlement country as well as return, be it permanent repatriation or ongoing engagement in transnational mobility. This reminds the editors of the Kosovar Albanians resettled in the USA. Of those migrants, 90 % of the adult population returned to Kosovo as soon as the conflict ended. Yet, many young people stayed on to finish high school or university before considering return (see Arowolo 2000). Since Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, substantial proportions of its population are expressing their lack of confidence in enduring peace and positive nation-building by preparing to emigrate. Interestingly, it is the better educated and those with higher incomes who are more likely to exit (Ivlevs and King 2015).

Third, in order to be enduring and sustainable, durable solutions need to address the needs of children and adolescents in a comprehensive way, and action needs to be undertaken both at the national and local levels. Concerned with the “migration crisis” involving thousands of Central American minors, mainly adolescents, fleeing violence in Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador and seeking refuge in the USA, advocates called for immigration relief as a solution to the children’s plight. Indeed, immigration relief would be a welcome durable solution. Adjustment of status, however, is not a panacea for all the challenges facing them. Immigration relief would not in and of itself ensure integration of the children and youth into the educational system, labor market, or the larger American society.

As Elzbieta Gozdziak argues in chapter “What Kind of Welcome? Addressing the Integration Needs of Central American Children and Adolescents in US Local Communities,” advocacy efforts and legal assistance to help the Central American children gain lawful immigration status must be accompanied by efforts to integrate them into US society as they await their immigration hearings. Gozdziak further argues that waiting for court decisions and letting the children and youth linger in limbo is unproductive. Furthermore, the USA does not have integration policies at the federal level; integration of immigrants—children and adults, authorized and undocumented—takes place at the community level, where local relationships determine the immigrant experience.

Krause and Hassell posit in chapter “A Systems Approach to Child Protection: Does Theory Reflect Reality in Protracted Refugee Situations?” that a comprehensive systems approach is needed, especially in protracted situations where forced migrant children live side-by-side with local children. As is known, refugee aid is under the mandate of the UNHCR and provided through humanitarian short-term assistance programs—ironi- cally, often on a long-term basis. In protracted situations this approach is not only inadequate but also is inequitable because it does not integrate local children into these programs. Tensions between displaced populations and host communities are likely to be exacerbated. Conversely, refugee children should not be treated as aliens but rather should be integrated in national child protection systems.

Fourth, advocating for children’s rights is paramount. As Emily Arnold-Fernandez emphasizes in chapter “Making Human Rights a Reality for Refugee Children: A Prerequisite to Local Integration as a Durable Solution”, focusing on refugees’ human rights rather than on the permanence or durability of, for example, their stay in a country of first asylum, leads to better outcomes. Governments, both national and local, are reluctant to consider permanent solutions. Asylum Access, an agency working with refugee children in Ecuador, Panama, Mexico, Thailand, Malaysia, and Tanzania, has learned that the best way to secure the rights necessary for local integration is to de-couple the concept of integration as a durable solution from the implementation of rights. The organization’s experience suggests that the pragmatic approach—focusing on policies that address current realities without raising the question of permanence—brings refugee children and adults closer to actual integration. Paradoxically, not stressing local integration has allowed the Asylum Access to secure changes that make local integration feasible.

The fifth lesson emphasizes that children, especially older adolescents, must be recognized as agentic social actors. They make instrumental choices for themselves as they attempt to remedy persistent discrimination and exclusion from the local society or to provide for their livelihoods. Employing the example of East Timorese ex-refugees in Naibonat, Indonesia, in chapter ‘“Brothers Will Be Everywhere”: Youth Involvement in Martial Arts as the East Timorese Displaced Persons Struggle for Recognition in Their Community in Naibonat, East Nusa

Tenggara, Indonesia’ Realisa Massardi shows how the adolescents in the study were forced to perform a form of “tactical bricolage,” which often involved violent activities as members of aperguruan (i.e., a martial arts group) in order to gain recognition. Considering that a perguruan frequently is associated with a political party, militia, and political struggle to gain rights, these groups can be seen as an arena in which to prove masculinity and the ability to contribute to “their people.” The young men in the study thus engage in violent behavior in order to access rights, ensure political belonging, and assert their identity. Their behavior illustrates a form of risk prioritization that necessarily privileges short-term survival, possibly at the expense of longer-term well-being.

Also in Indonesia, unaccompanied young asylum-seekers deprived of ways to support themselves seek romantic liaisons with older local women. As Antje Missbach and Danau Tanu write in chapter “Unaccompanied Young Asylum-Seekers Stuck in Transit in Indonesia: Intimate Relationships and Resilience”: “The common knee-jerk response is to analyze this phenomenon from a child trafficking perspective that casts the young boys as passive victims.” This approach, however, tends to result in policies that are punitive and limit the mobility of unaccompanied adolescent boys. The chapter’s authors acknowledge the possibility of exploitation occurring within these liaisons while pointing to the fact that the structures put in place by asylum policies further contribute to the vulnerability of the young boys to exploitation. At the same time, the Missbach and Tanu research shows that the boys are not merely passive victims but also agentic individuals using functional relationships to navigate the structures that limit their liberties and to make the most of the few options available to them. As the case discussed in chapter ‘“Brothers Will Be Everywhere”: Youth Involvement in Martial Arts as the East Timorese Displaced Persons Struggle for Recognition in Their Community in Naibonat, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia’ did, this example underscores the need to facilitate the agency of displaced youngsters. Both cases also illustrate the need to provide safer, more accommodating environments where the youths do not need to resort to strategies and behaviors that may put them in dangerous situations or set them up for further exploitation.

Finally, access to quality education is important for forcibly displaced children whether they are in the midst of an unfolding crisis or have been fortunate to escape violence and find refuge outside their homelands. Indeed, efforts to provide education to internally displaced children, youngsters in refugee camps, urban refugee children searching for assistance in neighboring countries, and young forced migrants resettled in faraway countries (e.g., the USA, Europe, and Australia) are common. In her paper, commissioned by the Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Lesley Bartlett (2015) identifies a host of system-level factors that significantly affect the educational access and achievement of migrant students, including legal status, socioeconomic background, deportation, access, segregation, school finance, language education policy, the availability of early childhood, and teacher quality. She also considers a range of key school-level factors that influence education for migrant children, including early childhood, age and duration of compulsory schooling, ability grouping, tracking, responsiveness of curricula and pedagogies to migrants, and openness to diversity. Bartlett questions the prevailing trend to organize educational policies and programs around the labels of “refugee” or “immigrant.” She suggests that “the self-identification of migrants may well diverge and may be related to social, ethnic, or political affiliations in countries of origin.” (Bartlett 2015, 18).

Programs or policies designed to target “migrants” or “refugees,” she argues may not reach all of their intended audience. Instead, Bartlett proposes hybrid approaches, taking into account the choice and autonomy of migrants, as a creative way forward. She also challenges the use of learning goals as indicators of successful educational programs for migrant students. Instead, she signals the importance of factors, such as the human right to education and the importance of legal status. In addition Bartlett discusses the deleterious effects of active deportation policies; the lack of regularization plans; equitable funding; culturally responsive pedagogies and curricula; and support for transition into the labor market, among others.

Several authors make education an explicit topic of their analysis or include it in the discussion of a wider range of issues (see Steele, chapter “Pathway of Hope: A Learning Certification Solution for Internally Displaced Children in Northern Syria”; Gozdziak, chapter “What Kind of Welcome? Addressing the Integration Needs of Central American Children and Adolescents in US Local Communities”). Focusing on education service delivery in conflict-affected northern Syria, Jen Steele reinvigorates the topic of learning certification for displaced children. She identifies the establishment of a supranational regional certification body, under the auspices of UNESCO, as one of the most promising enduring solutions. She posits that such a body must be considered if the humanitarian community is to help prevent a lost generation of Syrian school children. Steele is cognizant, however, of the challenges that the establishment of the certification body poses, including security concerns, unrealistic standards that could threaten the approaches’ durability, financial challenges, and the political character of education. She cites Talbot (2006) to emphasize that the very fact that a state is responsible for its citizens’ education could complicate and, in some cases, might devalue any UN certification.

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