UNHCR Catianne Tijerina

Image: © UNHCR/Catianne Tijerina

As International Youth Day is approaching (August 12th), this week we want to highlight some uplifting stories of young refugees who distinguished themselves for their motivation, strength, and creativity despite their challenging situations.

Young refugees represent an increasing share of the total number of migrants around the world. In 2019, among refugee populations all over the world, 12% of the total number were under the age of 18, and 11.4% of them are between 15 and 24 years old.

All young people, including refugees, share the characteristic energy and enthusiasm of this age. Young refugees often find themselves facing additional struggles due to their challenging situations, and yet the majority of them manage not to lose hope and willingness to help. It is also because of this characteristic trait that we have several examples of uplifting stories of young refugees doing whatever they can to improve their situation and helping the communities they live in, trying to contribute to society and continuing to pursue their dreams.

Young refugees during COVID-19

The recent global crisis created by the spread of COVID-19 has added further challenges to refugees’ lives. Nevertheless, many young refugees not only required additional assistance during this time, but also did their best to contribute to their communities by helping in any way they could. Starting from the many refugees who are nurses and doctors, like Moheyman, an Iraqi refugee in Iran, or Bahati a Rwandan refugee in Kenya, whose help and expertise during this period were essential, as they offered their invaluable skills to front line in hospitals and health centres, helping them to face the crisis.

Other young refugees tried to help their communities through the provision and creation of useful and essential materials and items during the emergency, items that could really make a difference at this time. The young Adhieu from South Sudan was able to help her new community in a refugee camp in Kenya by finding easy ways to make handmade face masks, soaps and also ventilators with few materials that she managed to collect on her own.

Dreams and hopes of young refugees

Young refugees of course have dreams and hopes like other young people to follow their passions and talents. Their struggles might make following their dreams a challenge, but their hope makes them push harder to reach their goals and objectives. Just like other young people, refugee youth have varied ambitions: some of them wish to be doctors and help people, some dream of being artists, others aspire to be athletes. Even the dreams of the whole Refugee Olympic Team, were not quashed by the postponement of the games due to the pandemic, as they continue to prepare and train for the 2021 Olympics in Tokyo. These young refugee athletes perform many different sports, such as Jamal Mohammed who is a distance runner or Ehsan Naghibzadeh who is a taekwondo champion. They all fled their countries due to war but were able to continue training in their host countries, which gave them the possibility to aim as high as the title of Olympian.

There are many young refugees who try to maximise on the opportunities offered by host countries, especially in the field of education. In Italy, for example, Bouba, a young refugee from Mali was the first beneficiary of international protection who graduated at university in Sassari, Sardinia, thus realising his dream, and now aiming for a Master in Europe. Another example is Fred Okot, from Uganda, who managed to graduate during the pandemic, defending his thesis through online sessions, in line with the Italian Coronavirus decree.

UNHCR Socrates Baltagiannis

Image: © UNHCR/Socrates Baltagiannis

These inspiring examples highlight how, with a proper integration system, young refugees might be given the possibility to follow their dreams and vocations and also give concrete help and support to the communities where they live. Integration is therefore fundamental, and it should be done through any possible means. Sports, for example, can be a great vehicle of integration: refugees can feel safer and more accepted through the facilities and possibilities given to them through training and opportunities to follow their dreams. If given the possibility of studying and getting an education, they could also really be helped in finding their own path and have the possibility of being reunited with their families or being able to give concrete help, both to their hosting communities and their countries of origin. It is important not to underestimate the energy and passion characterising young age, as despite the more challenging situation of many young refugees, they may well be able to do or become anything they want, just like any other young person, as in the end they only strive for a better future.

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