The 12th European Forum on the Rights of the Child was organised by the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium earlier this year. Marking the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the aim of the Forum was to evaluate Europe’s stand in the promotion and protection of the rights of the child, and to discuss the main challenges going forward. Rania Ali, a young Syrian journalist living in Austria, attended the event on behalf of the Living Together Initiative, which is co-led by Terre des hommes (Tdh).
You just took part in the most important European event addressing the rights of the child. Could you share some highlights?
It was a significant event attended by over 280 people, including members of European institutions, government representatives of EU Member States, as well as major NGOs and other stakeholders. My highlights of this two-day forum were meeting the EU Commissioner of Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Vera Jourova, and being on the panel of the ‘Protection of Children in Migration’ Workshop. During the meeting with Vera Jourova, we discussed the importance of youth representation in events like this and beyond. I spoke about the main goal of the Living Together Initiative to create spaces for youth to voice their views on inclusive societies. The other important highlight was to present our Living Together Initiative to a wider audience. It was very encouraging to see people interested in it. The issue of the representation of undocumented migrant youth was raised. We will make an effort for better inclusion of this group in the initiative.
What is your role in the Living Together initiative?
Tdh and I started this initiative at the end of 2017. As a young journalist who is also a Syrian refugee in Austria, I felt that the voices of the youth are often absent from the media and in public discourse. How is it possible that the youth are not involved in issues that affect them the most? We want their voices to become stronger and more influential with this initiative. Youth can provide a different source of information by sharing their experiences. We want young people from both migrant and host communities to connect, share and engage. Through the initiative, we meet young people from migrant and host communities across Europe to discuss their challenges and experiences on the issues of migration and living together. We have established an online platform to share their stories.
Why is it important to make young people’s views and stories widely known?
One thing that surfaces in all my meetings with young people is how little their voice is heard, if it is heard at all, in public discourse. When their voice is heard, it is hardly taken into account or put into practice. But now more than ever, laws and decisions affect them directly. We need to work harder to let the voices of the youth be heard. They can be at the forefront of social change and influence the narrative on migration to take control of their future!
How do young people see cultural diversity?
Our ever-growing community of young people is motivated to support more inclusive societies. They all agree that the negative perceptions of migration should be counterbalanced by sharing the real experiences of the young generation. They feel they can’t find a way to meet migrants and share their experiences together, often because societies in Europe nowadays demonise and separate youth from each other. Young people believe that the Living Together Initiative has the potential to break this trend and reconnect people.
What could everyone do to contribute to inclusive societies?
I believe it is important to overcome fear and speak up at any occasion — in conversations with friends, on social media — which will eventually contribute to shaping public discourse. Making the effort to get to know those who might be considered ‘foreigners’ in a country is crucial.