By Grace Amarachi Ezeonu, SNDdeN UN headquarters in New York was a hive of activity as member states gathered for the 53rd Commission on Social Development, February 4 to 13. Participants included representatives from several civil society organizations with consultative status with the UN. Some non-governmental organizations (NGOs) presented side events on chosen social issues. One such event, co-sponsored by the NGO Committee on Migration, chaired by Mary Jo Toll, was titled: “Giving Childhood Back to Children in Refugee Camps.” Panelists at this event were individuals from various areas of psychology, education, mental health, and human rights. They examined the psycho-social impact of the lack of integration of refugee children in camps into the social and cultural life of their host countries, and the implications of this to both young people and host countries in the short and long term.
One of the panelists noted that the current statistics from UN Refugees (www.unhcr.org) indicate that there are about 15.4 million refugees around the world and almost half of these are children and youth. Life in refugee camps can be socially and psychologically destabilizing for children who often already have had their own share of trauma as a result of the circumstances which caused them to be uprooted from the safety and security of their family and homeland. They explained that many children in refugee camps suffer exposure to violence, loss of home, identity, family, and peers, disruption of schooling, poor physical health, malnutrition, infection, and several other challenges. In many situations, the children’s suffering is also compounded by a feeling of exclusion or alienation from the culture and social life of their host country, since they are often confined to the camp environment.
The above factors put together, they explained, could have adverse psycho-social effect on refugee children in camps. In turn, this may also negatively affect the host county in the long run because the feeling of being socially excluded by some members of a society can act as catalyst for conflict or violence. Consequently, to avoid or at least minimize this adverse psycho-social effect, one of the panelists suggests cultural contact between the refugee children and their host country as an important alternative for long-term camps in integrating refugees into their host society. She warns that failure to do so might lead to increasing social problems, social unrest and instability. Even though she acknowledged that culture can sometimes be divisive, she also believes that it can act as a building block for psychological resilience and buffer against adversity. Therefore, she recommends that in addition to providing educational and economic opportunities there is also a need to actively provide cultural and psychological integration for refugee children, while allowing them the freedom to retain aspects of their cultural identity from their home country. Read more: ngo-migration.org/children-in-detention
What is at stake is nothing less than the survival
and well-being of a generation of innocents.
António Guterres, High Commissioner of the UN Refugee Agency