RPN 24 September 1997

10. Countries of asylum: responses to the needs of refugee youth(Sweden and US)

Below are two examples of activities undertaken by agencies in countries of asylum in order to meet some of the perceived needs of refugee youth.

Sweden: Returning home - a model for unaccompanied Somali refugee children by Sanna Wallin

There are currently some 850 unaccompanied Somali refugee children and youth living in Sweden. In 1995, following a study which highlighted homesickness, difficulties at school and high unemployment rates as the main problems faced by these refugee children, Rädda Barnen decided that more assistance was needed, either to prepare the children for a return to their home countries or to provide them with greater motivation to work and study in Sweden.

During the study, Rädda Barnen had made contact with Ungbo, a group home for young Somali boys. Recognising the strong desire of the boys to go back home for a visit, Rädda Barnen and Ungbo organised for five of them to travel to Somalia. Although the visits were joyful, the boys were shocked at the extent of poverty in Somalia. None of them is yet prepared to return permanently but all five have expressed their intention to live and work in Somalia in the future and, most importantly, have recognised the need to make the most of the educational facilities provided in Sweden.

This journey became the starting point for the construction of a model for integration and voluntary return(1) which focuses on Sweden-Somalia but could be applied anywhere. The model developed by Rädda Barnen is about integration and living - and working - in two countries. The children must make their own choice to stay in Sweden or return to Somalia. To be able to make that choice, they must have an education that is adapted to the employment situation in both Sweden and their home country.

The model

Step 1: Education for these refugee children in Sweden should include the following key areas: technology, administration, finance, data, livestock, car mechanics, welding, farming, irrigation, teaching and nursing.

Step 2: Youths would visit Somalia to work on a voluntary basis in an aid programme for one year; this would give them a realistic picture of their home country.

Step 3: After the visit, they should receive support to document and review what they have learnt during the year. They should also have the choice to continue with further academic studies or more practical training in Sweden.

Step 4: After a couple of years, they could decide whether to stay in Sweden or return to Somalia. There should be active networks or support groups to help fulfil the goals of employment and voluntary return.

This model might seem expensive. However, the costs of non-integration of refugees into a host country are extremely high; the cost to Swedish society of one person who is unemployed from the age of 18 to 65 is estimated at SEK 8 million.

Rädda Barnen has presented the model to the Swedish government and awaits their response.

1. A full account of the journey appears in Renewing home country links by Annacarin Leufstedt. Available (price SEK 90:-) from Rädda Barnen, S-107 88, Stockholm, Sweden. Tel: +46 698 9020. Fax: +46 698 9010.


USA: 'Resources for Refugee Youth' by Michael Burnham

'Resources for Refugee Youth', a programme of World Relief, is designed to assist refugee youth make the difficult transition to living in a new country and succeeding in a new educational system. Over 2,000 refugees from Vietnam, Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq, Ethiopia and Eritrea live in the community of Clarkston in the eastern part of Atlanta, Georgia. In early 1997, some 200 Kurds were also resettled in the same area.

World Relief identified three basic needs beyond the physical requirements of food, shelter and clothing.

First, youth need to feel accepted and welcomed in their new home; they also need new friends.

Second, they need to have some success in school. This is especially true with older teenagers who were close to finishing high school in their own countries. Some refugee youth, such as those from Somalia, may have been out of school for many years or may have never had any formal education.

Third, refugee youth need to be a source of pride and stability for their families. Refugee children usually start school before their parents find employment and in most cases they learn English before their parents. The family can come to rely on these young people to be their spokesperson and source of information and this can put undue pressure on a child who already has many changes to deal with.

'Resources for Refugee Youth' reaches over 150 youths and has four major components.

1. A tutoring programme is conducted throughout the school year for three hours daily, Monday-Thursday; staff and community volunteers provide individual assistance for each student and a computer lab is available.

2. Support groups meet on Fridays, with a Friendship Club for elementary school students and an International House for those in high school; activities are recreational but with an educational component.

3. Cultural diversity workshops in the schools are designed to raise awareness among students and teachers about the diversity of the community and the positive aspects of that diversity.

4. A 10-week summer programme integrates recreational activities with education; each week focuses on one aspect of American culture and one other world culture.

Friendship and security are just as important as learning for these young people. Many students come every day, year after year, and thrive on the attention and love they receive. To keep interest and participation high, programme activities are varied, with field trips, workshops, new ideas and new volunteers. The refugee youth themselves help establish the identity of the programme just as they create a new place for themselves in a new and different culture.

For more information or to establish links between these young people and youth in different parts of the world, contact: Michael Burnham, Resources for Refugee Youth, World Relief, 964 North Indian Creek Dr, Suite A-1, Clarkston, GA 30021, USA. Tel: +1 404 294 4352. Fax: +1 404 294 6011. E-mail: refugeeyouth@mindspring.com

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October 1997