Bonn: German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS)
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child significantly strengthened the legal basis for recognising children as actors with agency and a voice. In contrast to this, children in displacement contexts are still commonly portrayed as victims without agency. Children are dependent on adults, but that does not mean that they have no right to participate in decisions that affect their lives. This policy brief sheds light on the active role that children in displacement situations can take in their daily lives to shape refugee–host interactions and local integration in camp settings. It discusses how the role of children in the social integration of refugees can be strengthened and supported, indicating potential areas for intervention.
With 40 per cent of the displaced population worldwide being below the age of 18, children form a significant part of this group (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees [UNHCR], 2023). However, there continues to be limited information on the perspectives and experiences of children in displacement situations, particularly those living in the Global South. Although there is some knowledge regarding interventions to support the integration of refugee children, not much has been said about their own initiatives with respect to social integration and mediating the circumstances that displacement and encampment entail. Children change the world around them and invariably impact the adult-dominated processes of migration and integration when they participate. Independently from adults, children negotiate and construct relations during their interactions in public and private spaces, such as in (pre-)schools, organised sporting events and in private meeting points. They develop friendships and share learning materials, food and language. Through their agency, children build relations that are critical for the process of integration. This can transcend adult-dominated notions about the safety and securitisation of displacement contexts, thus transforming the conflict rhetoric associated with refugee–host community relations. The role of children has become even more salient in view of efforts to facilitate integration through the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), a key framework guiding refugee policy in many refugee-hosting countries in the Global South. At the same time, children’s unique growth and developmental needs have to be adequately understood and incorporated into integration policies and programmes. In this policy brief, we call for a change in policy and pro¬gramming to recognise and support children’s critical role in social integration. We make the following recommendations to host governments, international agencies and local partners active in refugee camp settings to:
• Support more data collection and analysis of children’s actions in building relations that can foster integration in different displacement contexts.
• Ensure that children are included as a special category in policy frameworks. Their interests and needs should be taken into account by listening to their voices and providing platforms for exchanges with adults, policy-makers and practitioners.
• Create more opportunities for refugee and host community children to interact inside and outside of school environments.
• Support sensitisation programmes that bring together parents of refugee and host community children to understand the role of children in the integration process and to ensure that the views of adults as parents and guardians are also listened to and addressed.
• Address negative stereotypes and open conflicts between refugee and host community children that restrict free and positive interactions. This can include fostering dialogue and peaceful means to resolve conflicts as well as facilitating cooperation.