A Time for Action

"The current system is failing refugee and migrant children. States have a responsibility to uphold their rights and protect all children within their borders, without exception."
UNICEF Report, May 2017

31 May 2017 | Refugees

For the last several years the world has been witnessing the largest displacement crisis in decades due to conflict, disaster or poverty. And it’s only growing worse with each passing month, particularly for children under the age of 18. UNICEF recently released a study, A Child Is a Child, that offers a harrowing account of the situation facing young refugees and unaccompanied minors around the globe. According to the study, at least 300,000 unaccompanied and separated children moving across borders were registered in 80 countries in 2015-16, a 450% increase from 2010-11. 92% of children who arrived in Italy by sea in 2016 and the first two months of 2017 were unaccompanied, and 75% reported experiences such as being held against their will or being forced to work without pay.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child, first ratified in 1989, protects every child regardless of race, ethnicity, or nationality. In September 2016, world leaders adopted The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, an agreement to protect the rights of refugees and migrants, save lives, and share responsibility for large movements on a global scale. Unfortunately, most States are not upholding their commitments to either. Even after arriving in a welcome State, young refugees are often left in unacceptable conditions, denied refugee status, or deported back to the country from which they had fled due to tighter border controls. Additionally, young refugees and unaccompanied minors face harsh prejudice even if they are allowed to remain in a State, leading to marginalization, exclusion, and exploitation.

We need to do better.

UNICEF’s report includes a call for a six-point action plan to keep refugee and migrant children safe: Protect uprooted children from exploitation and violence; End the detention of refugee and migrant children by creating practical alternatives; Keep families together and give children legal status; Help uprooted children stay in school and stay healthy; Press for action on the causes that uproot children from their homes; Combat xenophobia and discrimination.

We at Mentor strongly support UNICEF’s six-point plan; it is vital for the future of children around the world. Mentor as a single organization cannot fulfill, nor be responsible for, the implementation of all points and mentoring is not a catch-all solution to the problems facing refugee youth and unaccompanied minors. We can, however, offer support for protecting children, helping them stay in school and stay healthy, and combating xenophobia and discrimination. Mentoring can have a positive impact on refugee youth by reducing social isolation, contributing to increased integration between different societal groups, and strengthening self-esteem and motivation. Having an adult to talk to can also accelerate the development of local language skills and help introduce young refugees to the local culture, including values, norms, and laws.

We started working with refugee youth and unaccompanied minors in Sweden and have recently expanded this work to Germany and Lebanon. There is so much more work to be done, and we are looking for corporate partners to support and increase our efforts in these regions. We know we are stronger when we work together. If you’re interested in how your company can partner with Mentor International and make a difference to young refugees, please contact Amy Mangino, International Development Director, at amy.mangino@mentorinternational.org or via +46 (0) 70 345 9788.

To read UNICEF’s report, click here: https://www.unicef.org/emergencies/childrenonthemove/uprooted/