By Carina Autengruber
In 2015 more than 8,500 unaccompanied minor refugees arrived in Austria. From January to May this year another 2,966 children have arrived in Austria without their parents. Many of them came the long way from Afghanistan, but also from Syria, Iraq or Nigeria. They are now living with us in Austria. As all young people, young refugees need future prospects and equal opportunities. As the National Youth Council we are the legal representative body of all children and young people living in Austria. Young refugees are no exception.
In 1990 Austria signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which says that states need to ensure that a child is protected against all forms of discrimination on the basis of their status. But what we see in reality is that children refugees are perceived as refugees and not as children.
While recognising the specific situation of young refugees it is central to perceive them as young people. Young refugees are young people just as you and I. For us as the youth council it is essential to also have the voices of all young people, including young refugees, heard. In autumn last year we launched our campaign “Mehr als nur flüchtig” (“more than only fleeing”) to advocate for the rights of young refugees.
As part of our campaign the explorative study “Unaccompanied minor refugees in Austria” should finally gather facts and evidence that we need for the discussion about young refugees. Within the study we aimed to ask young unaccompanied minors about youth relevant topics such as housing, training and employment, finances and their free time activities; always putting the individual living situation of the young person in the centre. Young refugees face specific problems that need explicit political solutions.
We knew little about how young refugees live in reality, about their future wishes and what they are missing in their daily lives. Often their situation is portrayed in a misleading way. We mainly hear about numbers: numbers about asylum applications, numbers about costs, or numbers about waiting lines and so on. But especially when we talk about unaccompanied minor refugees we need to take their vulnerable situation into account.
“I have nothing to do the whole day”, “I do not notice the difference between week days and weekend” or “I have the feeling that I’m wasting my time” were answers young refugees gave in the interviews. One out of three young refugees we asked within our study is living in detention; half of them with more than eight people in one room. Every second young refugee answered that she or he does not have access to education or training. Especially complicated is the situation for minor refugees who are above the age of compulsory education. These facts clearly take away opportunities and hinder inclusion into society.
But young refugees, as everyone else, have hopes and dreams. “I want to live autonomously and independently, have work and finally be able to pay for my own bills”, said one of our interviewees. Another one said “we need to give refugees more confidence”. This is also reflected in our study results: four out of five young refugees are sure that they will succeed in their dream job.
What is clear is that young refugees, as all young people, have specific needs and wishes. But too often governmental decisions fail to take them into account. A serious political discussion has to be based on evidence and needs to focus on the individual living situation of the young person. In order that young refugees can access their rights and have equal opportunities, changes and solutions in politics and administration are required. Children are first and foremost children and cannot be discriminated because of their legal status.