Why young migrants?
Migration is an ever-increasing and permanent feature of today’s and tomorrow’s Europe. With an estimated 280 million people living outside of their birth countries, 11% of that population belong to young migrants aged 15 to 24.
While migration may be seen as a liberating journey, for some young migrants it might be a result of isolation, exclusion, discrimination, and insecurity. Being that adolescence and youth are critical stages in human development, if migration occurs during these years and the circumstances are unfavourable, the experience can have extremely harmful and distressing long term implications for young migrants. They risk losing not just a tremendous opportunity for full human development, but also a huge potential contribution to social, economic, and cultural growth in their destination countries. Young migrants cannot risk that. They aspire to be resilient and adapt to new environments. They wish to integrate and settle into their new host countries.
How can youth work support young migrants?
Given the dramatic increase in immigration into Europe in recent years, it appears obvious that the role of youth workers is critical in dealing with this situation. Youth policymakers, researchers, and practitioners had to adjust to a completely new reality, learning new techniques and gaining further skills to apply to their work with young migrants.
As a working concept, youth work is often understood as interventions directed aimed at encouraging young people’s voluntary participation, supporting them towards their personal and social development through non-formal and informal learning. This inclusive nature of youth work should be used to support young migrants in finding their place in the new society by providing a space where both the culture of origin and the new culture can co-exist.
While there are many diverse methods and practices to youth work in Europe, they all have one thing in common. They are based on values of human rights, democracy and social inclusion. These frameworks ensure that all people, including young migrants, have the opportunity to fully participate in economic, social and cultural life and to enjoy an adequate standard of living and wellbeing.
Youth workers also aid in the creation of societal conditions to participate in society. It is critical to establish alternate places and techniques to involvement in a situation where, for example, access to election participation and engagement in political parties is limited and not available to young migrants. By supporting these activities, it helps to promote more inclusive societies, which is exactly what youth work does.
Furthermore, the field of youth work can play an essential role in cross-sectoral collaboration amongst many sectors, such as education, housing and employment. Youth work should not take over responsibilities that are the responsibility of other sectors, but rather serve as a supplement to existing programs.
Finally, if all of the previous points are considered, youth workers have a fantastic opportunity to reinterpret general narratives about young migrants by sharing counter and alternative narratives through success stories of young migrants.
Ideas for everyday youth work practice
Treat every young person as a unique individual, regardless of their origin. Young people are particularly sensitive to unfairness and discrimination.
Do not treat young refugees as a special group; instead, try to integrate them into any activities and try to connect them with local youth by identifying common interests or competencies.
Make sure to explain everything. What might seem obvious to you, does not mean it is for everyone.
When working with young people, try to keep the cultural aspects in mind. If you are unfamiliar with a particular tradition or culture, ask. Getting informed can be used as a way to include the young migrants into that particular community.
In the end, be prepared to simply be present and listen at times, without feeling obligated to do something or step in.