Introduction and Background
Voices of Young Refugees in Europe (VYRE) is a grass-root network organisation, developed in 2008 and created by, with and for young refugees. VYRE starts with the fundamental principles of citizenship and participation, providing a unique opportunity to tackle the real problems faced by these young people, empowering them to lead the way in developing actions adapted to their needs. The main aim is “to positively change the lives of young refugees/exiles through unifying our voices to influence policy change at national and European level and to realise our equal human rights and dignity” .
VYRE accentuates the notion of active citizenship as a way of thinking the concept of citizenship more than a legal status. The growing political importance to address the migration phenomenon in a constructive way obstructs refugees to gain their legal status which would potentially enable a classical understanding of citizenship. This aspect enforces the idea to rethink to concept of citizenship through the notion of “active citizenship”.
VYRE draws attention to the possibility of refugees becoming active citizens through their contribution to society. With this rationalisation, the obstacles preventing refugees to contribute to society should be eradicated. This aspect is also crucial to reach a true understanding of an inclusive society. Within this scope, VYRE underlines the fact that the crisis that Europe is facing right now is not a “refugee crisis” but a crisis of an “inclusive society”. The civic and political participation of immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees, ultimately supports the diversity of the European community.
The Increasing Need for Participation and Democratic Citizenship:
VYRE as a Model in Europe
Young refugees should be provided with the necessary tools and assistance to explore their identity and the different aspects of this identity linking it to active citizenship in Europe. Refugees are often either portrayed negatively in mainstream media which influences the creation of stereotypes and prejudices against them or portrayed as “victims” to be pitied upon. However, perceiving refugees as a resource would also emphasize the idea that refugees can empower communities to reach a truly inclusive society.
Political parties have a responsibility to more actively attract immigrants and offer training in political processes. Necessary mechanisms should be put in place to inform refugees of their entitlement to vote and stand in certain elections. Moreover, in countries that give refugees the right to vote and stand for election, refugee issues are placed higher on the political agenda with politicians becoming more responsive and aware of the concerns of this group. This leads to a more balanced public debate, destigmatizing refugees and government policies that are more conducive to inclusion. Legislative bodies should reduce barriers for the civic and political engagement of refugees. The organizations should develop strategies to encourage refugee membership and active participation. Political parties should be more active in trying to attract refugees and offer training in political processes.
Through this, young refugees and other minority youth groups can actively participate and have a voice in the policy decisions affecting them.
How does VYRE contribute to active participation and citizenship in Europe?
As a large network of almost 40 organisations, VYRE works across Europe on various issues including promoting social inclusion, fighting discrimination, prejudices, racism, active participation and citizenship. Through intercultural learning, VYRE provides a platform for young refugees and refugee organisations to participate through sharing experiences, raising common issues and concerns, developing their skills and capacities and contributing to expanding knowledge on refugees and their situation . As well as supporting capacity building for refugee youth, VYRE encourages active citizenship collaborating with international institutions, governments and other organisations to spread information and knowledge and represents young people on the Advisory Council on Youth.
Among several activities developed and implemented by VYRE, one of the organisation’s key actions are study sessions. These are key for building and consolidating a strong network which, particularly as the network is made up of young refugees, exiles and relevant organisations, can empower refugee youth active participation and citizenship in their local communities and increase social inclusion . They also enable local, small organisations and groups to get exposure at a larger level, giving them a voice and an influence in the political sphere.
One of VYRE’s key strategies for this year is to increase collaboration with other minority groups. This year, VYRE has already partnered with several large organisations and networks to promote active citizenship and youth participation. For instance, VYRE was a key partner at the Youth of European Nationalities (YEN) 2017 Easter Seminar where we contributed to the formulation and development of a political joint resolution. This joint resolution is in the process of being adopted by the partner organisations, including VYRE, and the adoption of this resolution will be proposed to the European Youth Forum in November. Through this, young refugees and other minority youth groups can actively participate and have a voice in the policy decisions affecting them.
Learnings for Europe
The challenges that obstruct the active participation of young refugees in society are fundamentally a reflection of the classical understanding of citizenship that limits the active participation of young people in society in general. Young people should be recognized as equal and full citizens, with valued skills, ideas and contributions to make to the community they are a part of. Young refugees can inspire a more active participation of youth. The survival skills of young people which were gained through the refuge experience de facto enable young refugees to tend to be resilient, independent and capable of making their own decisions. The resilience and profound life experiences that a young refugee possess highlight the potential and significant contribution that they can make, both to others around them and to society. VYRE works to promote the role of young refugees in this regard and is an important example of the potential of European networks for the promotion of active participation and citizenship. Bringing together various nationalities, minority groups and organisations with a common objective is essential for a peaceful and inclusive Europe.
Further Reading & References
VYRE. (2009). Active participation as a tool for social inclusion: The current challenges of refugee youth. Strasbourg: 1.
VYRE. (2014). Read my story, hear my voice: refugees’ contribution to democratic citizenship. Strasbourg: VYRE.
by Amy Stapleton & Cihan Kilic (2017)
Amy Stapleton has a background in migration, youth work, interculturality, conflict resolution and development, and as a member of Mitrajectoires and VYRE, is extremely active working with and for young refugees in Europe, particularly in Northern France.
Cihan KILIC has a Master’s degree from Conflict Analysis and Resolution program and is currently working for the social inclusion of young refugees. He is member of the pool of trainers of the Council of Europe and a board member of Voices of Young Refugees in Europe (VYRE).
Photos © VYRE