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Children and migration: rights, resilience, and protection

Children and migration: rights, resilience, and protection

Children and young people move within and between countries in varying circumstances, both voluntarily and involuntarily. A wide range of interlinked factors—including economic, socio-political and environmental factors—influence decisions on how, when, and where to migrate.

Despite significant data on migration in general, little exists on the movement of children and young people specifically. Child-sensitive research is essential, not only to understand how the international community can better protect the rights and well-being of children on the move, but also to learn about migration journeys from children themselves.

UNICEF Innocenti builds the evidence base on effective strategies to protect the rights of children and young people who migrate or are displaced through mixed methods research. The work is structured across three pillars: (1) understanding the drivers, decision making and experiences of children on the move; (2) protection and well-being during transit; and (3) durable solutions for child migrant integration, return, or resettlement. Findings account for the distinct experiences of marginalized children and youth, including those living in humanitarian contexts; engaged in labour; and children living with disabilities.

 

Publications

Building Inclusive Education Systems  for Refugees
Publication

Building Inclusive Education Systems for Refugees

In line with the Agenda for Sustainable Development, and especially Sustainable Development Goal 4, access to quality education is essential for all children and youth, and offers refugee children and youth in particular a stable and safe environment within which to learn, grow and thrive. Globally, however, refugee children and youth struggle to reach the classroom – 48% of refugee children were estimated to be out of school in 2020- 21, with lower enrolment rates at secondary and tertiary levels (UNHCR 2022a; UNICEF 2022a).1 Low rates of educational engagement for refugee learners are heavily influenced by a lack of durable solutions and the lack of continuity across different educational pathways, with often limited access past primary school. This is all the more concerning as the number of refugee children worldwide has increased dramatically (UNHCR, 2023) by an estimated 116% in the period between 2010 and 2020 (UNICEF, 2022b). This brief advances knowledge on the current state of inclusion of refugee learners. It is based on several separate but complementary studies carried out by UNICEF Innocenti, UNHCR, and UNESCO, and was developed to share common inter-agency findings, gaps, and learnings. Taken together, these studies collectively seek to understand what has worked to promote inclusion in national education systems from multiple perspectives (e.g., policy and data), and to identify remaining barriers and challenges to effective inclusion for each.
Including Refugee Learners in National Education Systems
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Including Refugee Learners in National Education Systems

Including Refugee Learners in National Education Systems identifies key factors that underpin effective inclusion of refugee learners in national education systems and outlines barriers to achieving this goal. Based on an in-depth review of global evidence and literature and interviews with key stakeholders in refugee education, the report highlights key findings, including the importance of: • Government leadership and coordination efforts • Effective international cooperation • Awareness of policies and guidance with education systems • Capacity to support refugee inclusion. The report presents in-depth country case studies from Ecuador and Rwanda, providing information on diverse regional and country frameworks relating to educational inclusion. The Rwanda case study suggests that refugee inclusion in education can be achieved with a broad orientation towards inclusion and non-discrimination, even in the absence of specific policies and strategies focused on refugees. The Ecuador case study emphasizes that positive policies do not always filter down to those with responsibility to implement them and highlights the importance of efforts to ensure that teachers, school administrators and district-level staff are aware of new policies and have the capacity to enact them.
Mental Health in Displaced Child and Youth Populations: A Developmental and Family Systems Lens
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Mental Health in Displaced Child and Youth Populations: A Developmental and Family Systems Lens

Mental Health in Displaced Child and Youth Populations: A Developmental and Family Systems Lens addresses the mental health of children who are displaced due to crises. Children who are displaced experience an array of adverse situations prior to, during and after their displacement that impact their well-being, health, adjustment and developmental trajectories. However, research remains limited with respect to understanding the impact of displacement on mental health and addressing the roles of children’s ecological contexts (in particular the family). In this working paper, the authors summarize the knowledge base of mental health in displaced populations from peer-reviewed journal articles with a focus on the last 10 years and using meta-analyses of mental health research. Based on this evidence (as well as gaps and limitations), we present a framework and recommendations for guiding future research.
As they move: Child and Youth Experiences of Migration, Displacement and Return in Afghanistan
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As they move: Child and Youth Experiences of Migration, Displacement and Return in Afghanistan

The experience children and young people who migrated from their homes in Afghanistan – especially those who have been forced to return – can be described as a spiral of harm and neglect. For many, poverty and a desire to help their families drives them from their homes. Far too often, the journey exposes them to harm and economic exploitation. Many are forced to return, where re-entry into Afghanistan communities brings discontentment. These are among the findings of As They Move: Child and Youth Experiences of Migration, Displacement and Return in Afghanistan. The evidence-based research report is uses surveys and interviews of more than 1,500 children and young people in Afghanistan. The study was conducted by UNICEF Afghanistan Country Office, in partnership with UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight with the support of UNICEF Netherland.
Data and Research on Children and Youth in Forced Displacement: Identifying Gaps and Opportunities
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Data and Research on Children and Youth in Forced Displacement: Identifying Gaps and Opportunities

Globally, the number of people being forcefully displaced is increasing. Among them is a large number of young people, including at least 31 million children living in forced displacement in their own countries or abroad. States are committed to protect the rights of these children under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Hence, meeting their needs through sustainable, impactful, and age-sensitive solutions – as well as supporting their talents, aspirations, and capabilities in the process – has become a defining challenge for the international community, and a key global policy priority. Data and analysis, in turn, are critical in ensuring that decisionmaking and programming to protect, support and empower displaced children and youth are grounded in sound evidence.
Access to Basic Services
Publication

Access to Basic Services

This series of briefs draws on the findings of multi-country research based on first-hand migration experiences of 1,634 children and young people moving between Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.
Strengthening child protection systems and ending child immigration detention
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Strengthening child protection systems and ending child immigration detention

This series of briefs draw son the findings of multi-country research based on first-hand migration experiences of 1,634 children and young people moving between Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt.
Vulnerability, Discrimination and Xenophobia
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Vulnerability, Discrimination and Xenophobia

This series of briefs draws on the findings of multi-country research based on first-hand migration experiences of 1,634 children and young people moving between Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Egypt,
Reimagining Migration Responses in Sudan: Learning from migrant children and young people’s experiences. Summary Report
Publication

Reimagining Migration Responses in Sudan: Learning from migrant children and young people’s experiences. Summary Report

Migration is a regular feature of life in Sudan and the broader region. It takes multiple forms and is driven by numerous factors, including personal aspirations, curiosity, problems accessing a livelihood in the context of poverty and economic exclusion, and forced displacement stemming from political persecution, armed conflict, or natural disasters. Children and young people make up a significant portion of the upwards of 3 million migrants in Sudan. Yet there is limited understanding of the ways in which children and young people view migration, or of the opportunities and risks that it poses for them. As part of a regional research series, 467 quantitative interviews were conducted with children and young people in Sudan. The data from these interviews provide insights from children and young people themselves. Building on the findings, the research suggests a number of principles and concrete actions to create a more protective environment for children and young people on their migration journeys.
Reimagining Migration Responses in Somaliland and Puntland: Learning from migrant children and young people’s experiences. Summary Report
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Reimagining Migration Responses in Somaliland and Puntland: Learning from migrant children and young people’s experiences. Summary Report

Migration is a regular feature of life in the Horn of Africa. It takes multiple forms and is driven by numerous factors, including personal aspirations, economic exclusion and forced displacement as a consequence of inter-ethnic communal violence or natural disasters. As part of a regional research series and based specifically on 418 quantitative interviews carried out in 2019, with children and young people in Somaliland and Puntland, this report provides a deeper understanding of their perceptions and feelings around safety, well-being and their protective environments. It also provides a snapshot of their access to services and resources, and their trust in authorities and other service providers. The report concludes by offering policy and programme recommendations that can help rethink child protection approaches for migrant children and young people.
Reimagining Migration Responses in Ethiopia: Learning from migrant children and young people’s experiences. Summary Report.
Publication

Reimagining Migration Responses in Ethiopia: Learning from migrant children and young people’s experiences. Summary Report.

Migration is a regular feature of life in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa region. It takes multiple forms and is driven by numerous factors, including personal aspirations, economic exclusion and forced displacement as a consequence of inter-ethnic communal violence or natural disasters. As part of a regional research series and based specifically on interviews carried out in 2019 with 405 migrant children and young people in Ethiopia, this report provides a deeper understanding of their perceptions and feelings around safety, well-being and their protective environments. It also provides a snapshot of their access to services and resources, and their trust in authorities and other service providers in Ethiopia. The report concludes by offering policy and programme recommendations that can help rethink child protection approaches for migrant children and young people in Ethiopia
Reimagining Migration Responses: Learning from children and young people who move in the Horn of Africa
Publication

Reimagining Migration Responses: Learning from children and young people who move in the Horn of Africa

The number of international migrants under 18 is rising, accelerated by complex and fast-evolving economic, demographic, security and environmental drivers. Based on interviews carried out with 1,290 migrant children and young people in Ethiopia, Somalia and Sudan, this report helps address the evidence gap on children and young people migrating in the Horn of Africa by providing a better understanding of their protective environments; their access to services and resources; and their perceptions of safety, well-being and trust in authorities and other providers. It concludes by offering policy and programme recommendations to rethink child protection approaches for migrants in the region.
“No Mother Wants Her Child to Migrate” Vulnerability of Children on the Move in the Horn of Africa
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“No Mother Wants Her Child to Migrate” Vulnerability of Children on the Move in the Horn of Africa

Children are moving on an enormous scale in the Horn of Africa. The report highlights how children’s movement is driven by different motivations, exposes children to different forms of harm, and presents multiple barriers to accessing services. As elsewhere in the world, many people in the Horn of Africa are forced or pushed to move by unaddressed vulnerabilities, including poverty, persecution, disruption of their families or exposure to human rights abuses. Once they move, vulnerabilities can be exacerbated by the disruption of social structures and coping mechanisms that would otherwise have a protective effect. Being on the move can disrupt access to services as individuals may be unaware of where to turn in a new location and service providers may, in turn, have difficulty accessing them. These dangers become acute for children, especially those travelling without families. This report is the first in a series of studies in the Horn of Africa aimed at building knowledge to improve Unicef’s programmes which support children on the move. This first qualitative study provides a better understanding of the experiences of these children. It draws on 282 individual interviews and focus group discussions with children and parents on the move, including internally displaced persons, refugees, migrants and returnees. Within each group, the researchers examined why children move and the problems they face when they do. The researchers also examined what structures exist to protect children and whether they are effectively reaching children on the move and responding to the threats these children face. The report also provides recommendations for strengthening child protection systems on the ground.
2018 Results Report
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2018 Results Report

In 2018, significant gains were made in generating evidence to improve the lives of the most disadvantaged children, build organizational capacity to conduct and use quality, ethical research on children, and set a foundation as an important convening centre for expert consultation on next-generation ideas on children. 2018 marks the first year the UNICEF Office of Research - Innocenti is reporting on the progress of research under the new UNICEF Strategic Plan (2018-2021). This plan is the first to clearly delineate the role of research and evidence as one of the eight priority change strategies for children. This report therefore is an account of the first year of work to generate critical evidence to inform programmes, policies and advocacy for children and young people around the world
Child-related Concerns and Migration Decisions: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll
Publication

Child-related Concerns and Migration Decisions: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll

Current times are characterized by unprecedented migration levels: millions of people are on the move worldwide. Thus, understanding why people decide to migrate is a major goal of policymakers and international organizations, and migration has become a prominent issue on the global research agenda. Traditional migration drivers can be divided into reasons to leave (‘push’ factors) and reasons to migrate (‘pull’ factors), and include income deprivation, dissatisfaction with public services and institutions in the home country, conflict and war, climate change, and social networks abroad. In this paper, we focus our attention on children’s well-being as a potential migration driver. We investigate it by using the Gallup World Poll, a repeated cross-section dataset of a survey conducted in more than 150 countries from 2006 to 2016. We estimate the association between planned and intended migration and children’s perceived well-being using logit models with standardized coefficients, robust standard errors, and year and country fixed effects. Estimates reveal a positive and statistically significant association between child-related concerns, migration intent and plans. In particular, the probability of individuals having migration intent and plans increases where they report lower levels of satisfaction with child-related issues, as measured by the Youth Development Index, an index driven by indicators of respect for children and satisfaction with the education system. Moreover, children’s well-being affects more individuals living in households with children than those without. Finally, migration is a child- and youth-related phenomenon: young individuals would like to migrate, and plan to do so, more than older individuals.
Towards a Child Rights-based Assessment Tool to Evaluate National Responses to Migrant and Refugee Children
Publication

Towards a Child Rights-based Assessment Tool to Evaluate National Responses to Migrant and Refugee Children

This paper examines a range of tools, guidelines and formats available to monitor and evaluate various aspects of national responses to migrant children and argues for the need to integrate them into a single coherent, child focused, rights-based framework. Their current disparate application leaves gaps in the child’s protective environment and is not consistent with a holistic, child rights-based approach. Building on an analytical framework adopted by the Council of Europe in March 2018 to support a child-rights based approach by local and regional authorities to migrant and asylum-seeking children, the paper puts forward for consideration an integrated evaluation framework that incorporates and links existing practice models in order to ensure quality child-centred monitoring at each and every stage of the migration process.
Protected on Paper? An analysis of Nordic country responses to asylum-seeking children
Publication

Protected on Paper? An analysis of Nordic country responses to asylum-seeking children

This research, commissioned by the Nordic National Committees for UNICEF, examines to what extent the rights of asylum-seeking children are respected and protected in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. The report reviews relevant national legislative and policy frameworks; examines how these are implemented; documents good practices; and highlights gaps in national standards and their compliance to international standards. It makes some broad recommendations on how to strengthen and extend legal, policy and practice frameworks to ensure the full realization and protection of child asylum seekers’ rights and entitlements in the Nordic region. It further provides country-specific detailed, practical recommendations on how to ensure protection and welfare for asylum-seeking children. It makes country-specific recommendations on how legal, policy and practice frameworks can be strengthened to ensure full protection of children’s rights and entitlements.
Migration and Inequality: Making policies inclusive for every child
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Migration and Inequality: Making policies inclusive for every child

Drawing on Europe’s experience, this brief provides a cross-country comparative overview of inequality affecting children in the migration pathway, who are often described as 'children on the move'. Following a brief overview of the policy and practice in relation to various categories of refugee and migration children in Europe, it reflects on the performance of the countries with regard to Target 10.7 of the SDG.
Not Refugee Children, Not Migrant Children, But Children First: Lack of a systematic and integrated approach
Publication

Not Refugee Children, Not Migrant Children, But Children First: Lack of a systematic and integrated approach

This brief takes a deep dive in the semantics and conceptual issues in the children and migration discourse, and highlights some of the key implementation gaps. It offers a summary of the risks, vulnerabilities and protection needs of children as refugees and migration in Europe. Using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child as the normative frameworks, this brief also emphasizes how the voices of children in migration pathway must be heard and respected.
Bottom-end Inequality: Are children with an immigrant background at a disadvantage?
Publication

Bottom-end Inequality: Are children with an immigrant background at a disadvantage?

The extent to which the socio-demographic composition of child populations drives inequality in child well-being depends on which children are most likely to do much worse than their peers. In this Research Brief we present evidence on the socio-economic vulnerability of immigrant children and highlight the relative contribution of immigrant background to the risks of falling behind in household income, education, health and life satisfaction.
Strengthening Child Protection Systems for Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Mozambique: A case study of the border town of Ressano Garcia
Publication

Strengthening Child Protection Systems for Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Mozambique: A case study of the border town of Ressano Garcia

This research sets out to understand the why, how and with whom of rural-urban internal migration of children to Ressano Garcia, a border town between Mozambique and South Africa. It addresses the overarching research question of how to strengthen child protection systems for unaccompanied migrant children. By identifying children’s reasons for migrating, it identifies the main risks they encounter once they start living and working in Ressano Garcia. These include: lack of access to educational opportunities, exposure to child labour exploitation, trafficking and smuggling.
Child Trafficking in the Nordic Countries: Rethinking strategies and national responses. Technical report
Publication

Child Trafficking in the Nordic Countries: Rethinking strategies and national responses. Technical report

The study was initiated with twin aims: improving understanding of child trafficking and responses in the region; and contributing to the international discourse on child trafficking by examining the linkages between anti-trafficking responses and child protection systems. Although the study was conceived with a primary focus on trafficking, its scope is much broader. It analyses how the general principles of the Convention of the Rights of the Child are applied in relation to those children vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of exploitation. The research finds that many existing gaps may be bridged by consistent and strengthened implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Child Trafficking in the Nordic Countries: Rethinking strategies and national responses
Publication

Child Trafficking in the Nordic Countries: Rethinking strategies and national responses

The study was initiated with twin aims: improving understanding of child trafficking and responses in the region; and contributing to the international discourse on child trafficking by examining the linkages between anti-trafficking responses and child protection systems. Although the study was conceived with a primary focus on trafficking, its scope is much broader. It analyses how the general principles of the Convention of the Rights of the Child are applied in relation to those children vulnerable to trafficking and other forms of exploitation. The research also finds that many existing gaps may be bridged by consistent and strengthened implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Children in Immigrant Families in Eight Affluent Countries: Their family, national and international context
Publication

Children in Immigrant Families in Eight Affluent Countries: Their family, national and international context

During recent decades most affluent countries have experienced large increases in the number and diversity of immigrants, and accordingly it is anticipated that children in immigrant families will play an increasing role in these societies. However, while their social, economic and civic integration is of critical policy relevance, there is little statistical evidence available on this segment of the population. The study helps to fill the knowledge gap by presenting internationally comparable statistics on children in immigrant families in eight affluent countries - Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States.
Children in Immigrant Families in Switzerland: On a path between discrimination and integration
Publication

Children in Immigrant Families in Switzerland: On a path between discrimination and integration

Special Series on Children in Immigrant Families in Affluent Societies Public debate on immigration tends to be polarized in Switzerland around issues relating to admission policy. However, many children in well-settled immigrant families also appear to experience social exclusion. This needs to be addressed by policies and programmes aimed at fostering social integration.
Children in Immigrant Families in the Netherlands: A statistical portrait and a review of the literature
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Children in Immigrant Families in the Netherlands: A statistical portrait and a review of the literature

Special Series on Children in Immigrant Families in Affluent Societies Of the total population of the Netherlands about 19 per cent are foreign born or are born in the Netherlands with at least one parent born abroad. Almost 800,000 children (22.3 per cent of all children) are in immigrant families. Over 15 per cent of these children are foreign born. The rest have been born in the Netherlands each to at least one foreign-born parent. The Antilles and Aruba, Germany, Morocco, Suriname and Turkey are the major countries of origin.
The Children of Immigrants in France: The emergence of a second generation
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The Children of Immigrants in France: The emergence of a second generation

Special Series on the Situation of Children in Immigrant Families in Affluent Societies In 2005, 4.9 million immigrants were residing in metropolitan France. This was 8.1 per cent of the population. Children of immigrants represent close to one fifth of all children. Children with at least one parent from Algeria, Morocco, or Tunisia make up almost 40 per cent of these children, and children of sub-Saharan African origin make up one eighth. Of the 3.5 million foreigners living in France in 2004, 450,000 were children aged 0-17 whose parents were foreign born.
Review of the Circumstances among Children in Iimmigrant Families in Australia
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Review of the Circumstances among Children in Iimmigrant Families in Australia

Special Series on the Situation of Children in Immigrant Families in Affluent Societies There were about 1.5 million children 0 to 17 years of age in immigrant families in Australia in 2001. This represented almost 33 per cent of all children. More than a quarter of these children were in families from the most consistent countries of immigrant origin, Ireland and the United Kingdom. Another 17 per cent were in families from other parts of Europe, while 10 per cent were in families from New Zealand, and 3 per cent were in families from other countries in Oceania.
The Situation among Children of Migrant Origin in Germany
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The Situation among Children of Migrant Origin in Germany

Special Series on the Situation of Children in Immigrant Families in Affluent Societies Germany may be described as a country of immigrants. Resident foreign citizens alone number around 6.7 million. The share of children who are living with parents who are recent immigrants is quite large. More than 1 million children 0–17 years of age are foreign citizens. Counting German citizens, there are nearly 6 million children of migrant origin under the age of 25. Of all persons of migrant origin, nearly 30 per cent are in the 0–20 age group.
The Situation of Children in Immigrant Families in Italy: Changes and challenges
Publication

The Situation of Children in Immigrant Families in Italy: Changes and challenges

Special Series on Children in Immigrant Families in Affluent Societies According to 2001 census data more than 900,000 children aged 0-17, 10 per cent of all children in Italy, were born abroad or had at least one parent who was born abroad. One or both of the parents of about 500,000 children in immigrant families were born in less developed countries. Children now account for almost 23 per cent of the foreign population. In this report, we have analysed household composition and well-being of children in immigrant families with 2001 Italian census data and 2006 survey data. Inclusion and other social issues are reviewed through the most recent literature.
The Situation of Children in Immigrant Families in the United Kingdom
Publication

The Situation of Children in Immigrant Families in the United Kingdom

Special Series on Children in Immigrant Families in Affluent Societies The foreign-born population in the United Kingdom reached 4.9 million in 2001, representing 8.3 per cent of the total population. Around 2.1 million children (16.3 per cent of all children) were in immigrant families. A fifth of these children were foreign born. The remainder were born in the United Kingdom of at least one foreign-born parent. More than 40 per cent were in families from Asia, around 20 per cent in families from Africa and around 20 per cent in families from other countries in Europe. Bangladesh, Jamaica, India and Pakistan are some of the main countries of origin.
Independent Child Migrants in Developing Countries: Unexplored links in migration and development
Publication

Independent Child Migrants in Developing Countries: Unexplored links in migration and development

This paper focuses on independent migrant children, defined as below 18 years old, who choose to move from home and live at destinations without a parent or adult guardian. It summarises quantitative and qualitative research, and uses this to reflect on research agendas and global debates towards linking migration and development.
Child Migrants with and without Parents: Census-based estimates of scale and characteristics in Argentina, Chile and South Africa
Publication

Child Migrants with and without Parents: Census-based estimates of scale and characteristics in Argentina, Chile and South Africa

The paper defines child migrants as under 18 year olds whose usual residence was in a different country or province five years prior to census. The author estimates the scale of child migration, compares the relative magnitudes of internal and international migration, and considers sensitivity to alternative definitions of migration.
Children of International Migrants in Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines: A review of evidence and policies
Publication

Children of International Migrants in Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines: A review of evidence and policies

This paper considers three groups of children affected by international migration: (i) children left behind by international labour migrants from the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand; (ii) children of Thai nationals in Japan; and (iii) children brought along by irregular migrants in Malaysia and Thailand. Based on the limited data available from published sources, the paper constructs preliminary estimates of numbers of children involved. It then synthesizes available evidence on problems and opportunities faced by the children, and on policies towards them.
Children and Families of Ethnic Minorities, Immigrants and Indigenous Peoples: Global Seminar Report, 1995
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Children and Families of Ethnic Minorities, Immigrants and Indigenous Peoples: Global Seminar Report, 1995

The seventh Innocenti Global Seminar, held in Florence in October 1996, brought together participants with a wide range of experiences and perspectives to discuss discrimination against ethnic minorities, immigrants and indigenous peoples. The Report emphasizes participation, education and empowerment and calls for systematic attention to be paid to minority populations in all situation analyses.
Children of Migrants and Ethnic Minorities: An overview and conceptual framework
Publication

Children of Migrants and Ethnic Minorities: An overview and conceptual framework

Following the Second World War and particularly after the 1960s, many Western European countries experienced positive immigration. Migrations to each specific country differed in origin and were influenced by the historical ties between the sending and receiving countries, particularly in the case of migrations from ex-colonies. However, international economic conditions and political situations also caused similar migration trends across countries, in particular the "contract work" migrations of the 1960s and the new waves of immigrants from developing countries of the 1970s and 1980s.

Journal Articles

Gender Justice and (In)security in Pakistan and Afghanistan
Journal Article

Gender Justice and (In)security in Pakistan and Afghanistan

This article argues that gender justice becomes a politicised issue in counterproductive ways in conflict zones. Despite claims of following democratic principles, cultural norms have often taken precedence over ensuring gender-sensitive security practices on the ground. The rightness of the ‘war on terror’ justified by evoking fear and enforced through colonial methods of surveillance, torture, and repression in counter-terrorism measures, reproduces colonial strategies of governance. In the current context, the postcolonial sovereign state with its colonial memories and structures of violence attempts to control women’s identities. This article analyses some of these debates within the context of Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s security dynamics. It begins with the premise that a deliberate focus on the exclusion and limitation of women in Muslim and traditional societies sustains and reinforces the stereotypes of women as silent and silenced actors only. However, while the control of women within and beyond the nexus of patriarchal family'society'state is central to extremist ideologies and institutionalisation practices, women’s vulnerabilities and insecurities increase in times of conflict not only because of the action of religious forces, but also because of ‘progressive’, ‘secular’, ‘humanitarian’ interventions.

News & Commentary

As They Move — Child and Youth Experiences of Migration, Displacement and Return in Afghanistan
Article

As They Move — Child and Youth Experiences of Migration, Displacement and Return in Afghanistan

Drawing on interviews with children and young people who left Afghanistan and returned, either forcibly or voluntarily since 2021, this blog post presents some poignant narratives about Afghan children’s journeys: their experiences of return, the support they need and their hopes for the future.
The Under-Explored Impact and Potential of Refugee Youth-Led Organisations 
Article

The Under-Explored Impact and Potential of Refugee Youth-Led Organisations 

By Dr. Evan Easton-Calabria (UNICEF Innocenti), Shai Naides, (UNICEF Innocenti) and Rahildaris Antonieta Marchena Herrera (Global Refugee-Led Network) Around the world, there is a rise in recognition of the power and importance of refugee-led organisations (RLOs). Rarely featured in discussions about these however, is the prominent role of refugee youth-led organisations, commonly known as RYLOs. Supporting age diversity within the leadership of organisations created and led by refugees is a key but under-acknowledged area of practice in responding to the needs of forcibly displaced people.  This aspect is even more important when one considers that over half of all refugees are 24 years old or under. The Global Refugee Youth Network (GRYN), for example, aims to support and advance youth-led initiatives through capacity building, networking and advocacy, and provides small grants to RYLOs to implement projects of their own design.  Role of RYLOs in addressing needs and challenges of refugee youth  Conversations with members of GRYN and with leaders of other RYLOs and youth-led refugee initiatives reveal the particular value that the perspective and approaches of young leaders brings to these initiatives. Many informants spoke of the deep understanding that fellow refugee youth have of their challenges and experiences, which can be harnessed to improve organizations’ programming. Notably, several informants highlighted the ‘in between’ role that refugee youth often find themselves in within humanitarian and development settings characterized by protracted displacement: they have aged out of child-targeted programming but are not yet old enough to be considered by many agencies as independent adults. However, they also face similar or greater challenges than refugee adults due to their age and particular situations. For example, teenage pregnancy, rape and sexual abuse are key issues that female refugee youth in particular have to deal with. RYLOs have a unique role to play in supporting fellow refugee youth with such challenges and are an important yet under-acknowledged element of the assistance architecture for young refugees.   A Congolese refugee who lived in a Ugandan settlement as a teenager started a RYLO to address the stigma that teenage mothers faced and to create a space for community support. She explained,I started this group because of my own experience as a child mother, because I didn’t have the chance to access education and I lost my identity as a young girl when I lost my parents and was forced to become child bride. All of that pushed me, and when I gained confidence, I founded that group to bring girls to the table, with the same experience as me, to promote girl’s education and girl’s and women’s rights.   Mismatch between RYLO aims and humanitarian perceptions  Alongside good practices and models for collaboration like the ongoing support of GRYN by the Women’s Refugee Commission, there is also a worrying mismatch between international organisations’ perceptions of refugee youth-led initiatives and their own aims. RYLOs generally have a large focus on income-generation as many refugee youth are either living alone in cities or are the main breadwinners for their families. However, it is common for humanitarian and development agencies’ programs to target artistic development such as painting, music, and dance rather than livelihoods trainings or other forms of support to income generation. RYLO informants describe these activities as being seen as ways to ‘occupy the youth’ and prevent drug use and/or crime.This mismatch reveals the lack of appropriate focus by humanitarian and development organizations on youth capacity and their attempts to improve their lives. Skills development and income generating activities play in fact a critical role in the survival strategies of many. Recognising this, many RYLOs offer income generating trainings themselves. Indeed, the existence of youth-led refugee organisations challenges perceptions and constructions of both youth and refugees as vulnerable and lacking agency, which does not account for the broader reality of the large impact that RYLOs have on many refugee youth’s lives.   RYLOs teach us about true youth-centred programmes design  These different perceptions also highlight the unique value of RYLOs: unlike big funders and international organisations, RYLOs don’t need to create mechanisms for youth inclusion and youth consultations because their strategies and initiatives are inherently youth-centred and youth-led. This is important as the principles of Human-Centred Design applied to programme development indicate that the most effective strategies and solutions come from those individuals and communities which are closest to the challenges. RYLOs’ insights about the challenges and opportunities for young refugees make them critical partners for systemic change and solution pathways that funders, international organisations and host countries can leverage through supporting and engaging them as legitimate and equal partners.   Looking Ahead   Promising progress is being made however, in terms of the evolution of programming and partnerships for RYLOs in ways which recognise and promote the agency and capability of refugee youth.UNICEF and other humanitarian agencies are striving to make youth voices heard. An example of this is UNICEF’s and the Norwegian Refugee Council’s Global Refugee Forum pledge to support the development of Guidelines for Programming with and for young people in humanitarian settings [searchable under ‘UNICEF’]. The International Labour Organization, the UN Refugee Agency, and UNICEF have adopted an initiative to advance young people’s engagement and meaningful participation to improve the prospects of forcibly displaced people in terms of livelihoods and wellbeing (PROSPECTS) Finally, refugee youth themselves are continuing to advocate and act. For example, a formal statement issued by displaced youth on the climate emergency was released for COP27 in 2022 with messages also keenly relevant to the recent COP28. The positive inclusion of both refugee-led orgaisations and refugee youth in the Global Refugee Forum must continue in broader humanitarian and development programming. Around the world, RYLOs continue the daily work of addressing fellow refugee youth’s needs despite limited funding and other resources. As the work of supporting RYLOs continues to expand, the following messages – shared by RYLO leaders and members – are important to heed:  RYLOs exist because young refugees’ needs are not being met. Refugee youth are taking initiative and filling advocacy, programmatic, and funding gaps to improve their lives and the lives of young people in their communities;There is dissonance between the challenges that young refugees face and the type of activities that funders prioritize. Youth-centred approaches to programme and intervention design need to be prioritized; More research is needed to understand the particular challenges and successes of RYLOs, including intersectional challenges such age and gender. In particular, there’s a need to better understand the contextual factor that enable or hinder girls from establishing and leading RYLOs.  Young refugees and RYLOs should have the right to participation as equal partners in decision-making processes concerning their situation. This requires a shift in humanitarian and development agencies’ perceptions and narratives from refugee youth as merely recipients to agents of change.    
The Under-Examined Role of Refugee-Led Organisations in Assisting Refugee Children
Article

The Under-Examined Role of Refugee-Led Organisations in Assisting Refugee Children

By Dr. Evan Easton-Calabria (UNICEF Innocenti) The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of local communities as both providers of assistance and partners of established aid actors, building on existing localisation efforts in the humanitarian sector. This is particularly true of organisations and initiatives started and led by refugees themselves, known as refugee-led organisations (RLOs). Notably, many RLOs provide crucial services to refugee children, ranging from education to child protection. Others are youth-led, as discussed in a companion blog article, illustrating child participation in action and one of many ways young people take ownership over finding their own solutions. At the onset of the pandemic, as many established aid actors withdrew from local service provision, RLOs around the world stepped in as first responders, providing emergency food rations to fellow refugees during lockdowns, sewing masks, raising awareness about COVID-19 hygiene and sanitation protocols, and more. In part due to their prominence in delivering support when many other organisations were limited in their ability to do so in person, refugee-led organisations have become an increasingly widespread topic of discussion within the humanitarian sector. This is also reflected in funding flows, with new financing mechanisms for refugee-led organisations now worth over 50 million USD - illustrating a clear increase since the onset of COVID-19 in the visibility of and investment in refugee-led organisations. The importance of informal support to refugee children and youth Despite growing recognition of the many ways in which refugee-led organisations offer support to their communities, there is a significant lack of recognition of their critical role in both discourse and evidence, which can be attributed to their under-utilization in programming and their still limited visibility in policy. In particular, there is a clear need for more rigorous empirical research into RLOs to provide evidence and insights to support more impactful programming. This gap is particularly significant in policy and practitioner discussions on RLOs’ roles in supporting child protection and wellbeing – a critical aspect given research findings on the importance of informal support provision to migrant and displaced children. For example, as the UNICEF report ‘Reimagining Migration Responses found: ‘Scarcely any children or young people who said they felt scared said they would turn for help to the police or other authorities; they were more likely to turn to religious leaders, international charities [including community-based organisations] and teachers.’ Almost half of respondents stated that they thought a community leader would help them if they were in need compared to approximately 40% saying they believed a government official or police would help them. These findings on the importance of community assistance, whether it be members of the community, grassroot organisations, or faith-based leaders, underscore the relevance of refugee-led grassroots efforts to provide safety and assistance for refugee children and youth.  Countless examples of RLOs assisting children and families Through my work and research with RLOs in Eastern and the Horn of Africa over the last ten years, I have seen first-hand the significant assistance that RLOs provide to refugee children and their families. In a refugee settlement in Uganda, refugee leaders explained how their organisation acts as a first responder in child protection cases, helping children directly when they can and referring them onwards to services or the authorities when they cannot. In Nairobi, an organisation started by a Somali refugee offers English and computer classes to children (many of whom are not in formal schooling) as well as a safe space to convene. In Berlin, refugees have created their own library, including for children, and others have developed programming for at-risk refugee youth. Multiple RLOs offer emergency shelter for unaccompanied children or mothers and children and also organise children and youth activities such as football. Several RLOs even run their own Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes. One RLO director started his own ECD and primary school class for children in a Ugandan refugee settlement during lockdown, working with children as young as two years old, in an effort to create a space for learning and to protect children dealing with domestic abuse. In Kampala, the RLO Bondeko Refugee Livelihoods Centre leads an education project with ECD components for children with disabilities such as cerebral palsy and epilepsy. Importantly, refugee-led initiatives for children often arise out of a gap in existing humanitarian and development programming. Of the ECD programme, for example, Bondeko’s director stated:We noticed that at that age there is no support at all from UNHCR or other stakeholders in the field of education – they prefer to give support to children in primary school. But the fact is that children refugees are reaching primary school and they are not competitive with nationals who went through kindergarten or nursery…our program aims to help refugee children to be competitive.  Advancing evidence and learning on refugee-led child programming These and countless other examples illustrate how refugee-led organisations are places where significant innovative good practice in child and youth programming occurs. These organisations offer real opportunities for agencies like UNICEF to help scale up important and currently under-utilised practices. Doing so also provides important pathways to widen humanitarian localisation by focusing on those needs that refugees themselves have identified through supporting solutions that they have developed. As one leader of a refugee youth-led organisation explained, ‘When big agencies come they don’t see what’s on the ground and they don’t see what’s missing because they have their own projects. This doesn’t work. But we give opportunities for refugees to come up with their own project, to design it with them, and to help with implementation.’ Presented below are some recommendations for policy, practice and research to further advance refugee-led child programming.  Recommendations for Policy & Practice  Improve meaningful representation and inclusion of RLOs in local/regional consortia or clusters on different areas of child wellbeing. RLOs have a deep understanding of the main challenges faced by refugee children and families; including RLO leaders and staff in relevant stakeholder meetings can increase learning and the potential for partnerships. Formalise channels between RLOs and local authorities, NGOs, and INGOs for referring child protection cases and other referral needs. This could occur through facilitating introductions, partnerships, and MoUs between relevant stakeholders in particular neighbourhoods or regions. Increase funding to RLOs for child and youth programming. RLOs need stable financial support to run operations (most employees are in fact volunteers); this includes funding to pay for rent and to pay employees in addition to resources for child programming.  Next steps in research  The following types of research could increase the evidence base on RLOs and child programming as well as improve knowledge for policy and practice: In-depth case studies of the work of RLOs in child protection and wellbeing to address the current lack of qualitative data on this topic.Surveys of RLOs to better understand the prevalence of child- and youth-focused programming, including the types of support offered and RLOs’ needs and challenges in providing it. Qualitative research with refugee-serving NGOs, IOs, and INGOS to understand their level of engagement with RLOs and to better understand how RLOs could contribute to their work and vice-versa (e.g. opportunities, barriers, needs).   

Events

Building Inclusive Education Systems for Refugees
Event

Building Inclusive Education Systems for Refugees

Innocenti, in collaboration with the Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE), UNESCO and UNHCR, delivered a webinar this week exploring cutting-edge research on effective strategies for the inclusion of refugees in national education systems.
Workshop on Climate-Related Child Mobility Data
Event

Workshop on Climate-Related Child Mobility Data

The International Data Alliance for Children on the Move (IDAC), in partnership with UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight (Innocenti) and UNICEF Division of Data, Analytics, Planning and Monitoring (DAPM), facilitated a global collaboration around the theme of improving data on climate-related child and family mobility. 
Child Migration and Displacement research opportunities
Event

Child Migration and Displacement research opportunities

UNICEF Innocenti – Global Office of Research and Foresight (Innocenti), the Migration Policy Centre (MPC) of the European University Institute (EUI), the  International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Global Policy Center (GPC) at the University of Virginia are seeking to develop a collaboration around the theme of child and family mobility in contexts of migration and forced displacement.As an initial step, the partners will bring together a core group of expert cross-sectoral researchers and practitioners working on issues relevant for child and family migration and displacement, in order identify shared evidence gaps, priorities, and opportunities for knowledge-sharing and collaboration.

Project team

Josiah Kaplan

UNICEF Innocenti

Ramya Subrahmanian

UNICEF Innocenti

Evan Easton-Calabria

UNICEF Innocenti

Mark Gill

UNICEF Innocenti

Lucy Hovil

UNICEF Innocenti

Zeudi Liew

UNICEF Innocenti

Satoshi Watarai

UNICEF Innocenti

Videos

Research watch

Children on the move

Topics

Migration

Conference and meetings

Annual Meeting Human Rights, Migration and Global Governance (ACUNS)

ASEM Seminar Human Rights and Children

Second Global Meeting on Children on the move

The Migration-Deportation Nexus

Blogs

How voluntary guardianship for unaccompanied minors took root in Sicily

Children and Migration Decision: Evidence from the Gallup World Poll

Migration, hate speech and media ethics

Why research should be a priority in the global response to the child migration crisis

Migrant and refugee children face higher rates of bullying

Podcasts

Protected on Paper? An analysis of Nordic country responses to asylum-seeking children

Bina D'Costa on migrant and refugee children and the role of research

Commentaries

Syrian refugees and child marriage

Life (and death) of Rohingya children - No place to hide

Asia’s Child Migrants

Related Innocenti publications

Economic Transfers and Social Cohesion in a refugee hosting setting

No Lost Generation - cash transfer program for Syrian Refugees

What's new

Forced Displacement of Children in the Italian Context

Knowledge pages

Children and Migration

Related external links

Economic Transfers and Social Cohesion in a refugee hosting setting

External website

Children Uprooted campaign

UNICEF Agenda for Action for Children on the move