by Bushra Ebadi
The meaningful engagement in global governance of youth — in particular displaced youth, including both refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) — is crucial to ensuring the sustainability and effectiveness of political, economic and social systems, as well as to realizing durable peace and security. Young people aged 15 to 35 comprise one-third of the world’s population yet are largely absent from decision-making fora and as such are unaccounted for in policy making, programming and laws. The disenfranchisement of displaced youth is a particular problem, because it further marginalizes young people who have already experienced persecution and been forcibly displaced. While their individual realities vary depending on geographic location, gender and sexual identity, economic status and individual situation, youth share the experience of being marginalized within existing legal, political, economic and social systems globally.
Beyond consultations and youth fora on migration and refugees, the United Nations’ Global Compact processes have not successfully mainstreamed the interests of youth or developed mechanisms for effectively engaging this population. Instead, despite their unique needs and capacities, displaced youth and refugees have largely been tokenized: invited to participate, yet prevented from influencing decisions or the design of structures and institutions, policy and reforms.
The meaningful and continuous engagement of youth (displaced and otherwise) in the governance of the global refugee system is critical for the system’s functionality and to ensure that their needs are being met and to address the barriers that impede them from exercising their agency.
While programming for and research on refugee youth are sparse, this paper aims to demonstrate the importance of including displaced youth in governance and decision making; to identify key barriers to engagement that displaced youth face; and to highlight effective strategies for engaging youth. Comprehensive financial, legal, social and governance reforms are needed in order to facilitate and support the meaningful engagement of youth in the refugee and IDP systems. Without these reforms and partnerships between youth and other diverse stakeholders, it will be difficult to achieve sustainable solutions for forcibly displaced populations and the communities that host them.