UNHCR aims to be a fully age, gender and diversity inclusive organisation within the next four years. Yet the 2011 global analysis of UNHCR’s accountability frameworks for Age, Gender and Diversity (AGD) revealed that only 14% of its managers worldwide reported full achievement of targeted actions for adolescents. This stands as one of the top four gaps in implementing the AGD policy.
This review explores UNHCR’s engagement with displaced youth, refugees and IDPs, by analysing
the agency’s mandate in relation to youth through its policies, guidelines and strategies, institutional infrastructure, approaches to identifying and responding to the needs of displaced youth, current funding, programmes and monitoring and evaluation processes. As general guidance this review uses the UN definition of youth, that is, the age group of 15-24 years; yet it recognises ‘youth’ as a social construct reflecting local understandings.
As age-disaggregated data is not currently collected for young people in the age group of 15-24
years, this report draws heavily on primary data collected as part of this review. The methodology includes a survey of selected UNHCR staff, interviews with field-based staff and implementing partners,and focus group discussions with youth in different displacement settings giving fascinating insight into current views, perceptions, programmes and operations from UNHCR itself as well as young displaced people.
Displaced Youth: Roles and Needs
Little data exists within UNHCR on the global displaced population aged 15-24 years and yet evidence suggests that youth form a majority of UNHCR’s ‘Persons of Concern’. With limited access to post-primary education and livelihoods opportunities, without the right to work and with no certainty of a durable solution, young people are often unable to plan a future life for themselves and have described their lives as ‘living in a state of limbo’. Although they can be perceived as a threat to stability and security (particularly males), or as vulnerable victims (females), displacement may force young people to take on new roles and responsibilities to ensure their own and their families’ basic needs, often endangering their lives. Girls are doubly at risk of harmful coping strategies, such as survival sex or early marriage. Yet young people often show resilience in the face of such difficult situations and demonstrate enormous agency and ability to adapt. They self-organise, form groups, offer peer to-peer and wider community support and may even assist international organisations at times of heightened security concerns. Beyond meeting their material needs, such as food or clothing, displaced young people aim to transition to adulthood by continuing their education and ensuring safe and dignified livelihoods while hoping for a stable and durable solution.
Despite the important roles many young people play in contributing to their own and others’ wellbeing, too often their present-day capacities are not recognised, and their perspectives are not heard by community leaders or relief agencies. The findings of this review show that despite the compelling evidence for displaced youth’s needs and the constraints they face in improving their present-day situation, and their hopes for long-term solutions, they represent an invisible majority within the population of concern of UNHCR and partners.