10 challenges of refugee youth

Refugee youth are seldom consulted and frequently overlooked. Their potential remains largely untapped.

Refugee youth are seldom consulted, frequently overlooked, and often unable to fully participate in decision making. Their talents, energy, and potential remain largely untapped, according to a report from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC).

In 2015 and 2016, UNHCR and WRC undertook the Global Refugee Youth Consultations (GRYC) to amplify “voices” of youth in decisions that affect them. The project engaged more than 1,200 young people, aged 15-24 years old, who participated in 56 national and sub-national consultations held in 22 countries.

The consultations were “the beginning of a process that will continue to develop the leadership, capacity, and futures of refugee youth everywhere,” according to UNHCR and WRC.

Youth are youth. Everywhere.

Refugee youth want the same things that young people want everywhere: to be consulted and listened to., The want to be to engaged, to contribute to and to be part of solutions. They want opportunities, education, employment and inclusion.

The report We Believe in Youth details the most pressing challenges refugee youth face, and their recommendations on how best to address these challenges. The report is a road map for action for all those engaged in humanitarian response, including states, international organizations, international and national civil society organizations, donors, and youth groups.

10 Challenges

N. 1: Difficulties obtaining legal recognition and personal documents

Refugee youths stress the challenges, complexities, and delays in the processes of obtaining asylum and related legal documents from UNHCR and/or local authorities, and the serious implications of not having them.

N. 2: Difficulty in accessing quality learning, education, and skills-building opportunities

Young refugees consistently identify the difficulty of obtaining recognition for their existing qualifications as a serious challenge. Accessing quality learning, formal education, and skill-building opportunities are also recurrent problems.

N. 3: Discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and "culture clash"

Young refugees note that discrimination, racism, and xenophobia across all regions leaves them feeling isolated and marginalized.

N. 4: Few youth employment and livelihood opportunities

Refugee youths emphasize they would rather work than depend on humanitarian aid and express frustration at the limited employment and livelihood opportunities available to them.

N. 5: Gender inequality, discrimination, exploitation, and violence, including for LGBTI youth

Young refugees highlight concerns about gender inequality and discrimination as challenges in and of themselves, but also as underlying causes of sexual exploitation and gender-based violence (SGBV). This includes domestic violence, child and forced marriage, sexual assault, and rape.

N. 6: Poor access to youth-sensitive healthcare, including psychosocial support

Refugee youths highlight a lack of access to quality health care as a major concern, and particularly note the need for youth-sensitive sexual and reproductive health care and psychosocial support.

N. 7: Lack of safety, security, and freedom of movement

Refugee youths express concern about safety, security, and freedom of movement linked to xenophobia and their difficulty obtaining documents. In some locations, they also highlight police harassment as well as arrest and detention.

N. 8: Challenges for unaccompanied youth

Refugees stress the specific protections and practical challenges for unaccompanied youth, including the difficult transition and a lack of preparation for those who turn 18, thus “age out”, and are no longer afforded additional protection and support, but often still need guidance and assistance as well as access to rights and protection.

N. 9: Lack of opportunities to participate, be engaged, or access decision makers

Youth identify a lack of empowerment and engagement opportunities as factors that limit youth involvement in decision making. They have few opportunities to analyze issues, devise solutions, share their ideas with decision makers, and be heard.

N. 10: Lack of information about asylum, refugee rights, and available services

In all of the consultations, young refugees have highlighted challenges related to the lack of relevant, honest, and transparent information about the asylum process, refugee rights, available services, and the society and culture of their country of asylum.