A Case for the Elimination of Discrimination

“Refugees and migrants are particular targets of racial profiling and incitement to hatred. In the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted in September 2016, United Nations Member States strongly condemned acts and manifestations of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance against refugees and migrants. In doing so, they also committed to a range of steps to counter such attitudes and behaviours, particularly regarding hate crimes, hate speech and racial violence.” (http://www.un.org/en/events/racialdiscriminationday/)

RET International is committed to assisting communities meet the educational needs, in the broadest sense, of young people made vulnerable by displacement, violence, armed conflict and disasters. Ultimately, we aim to help build a world in which the actions of empowered young people lead their communities out of crises and towards stronger social cohesion, peace and prosperity.

To offer this protection to young people and provide them with the opportunities to be actors of positive social change, we often work specifically to promote integration, inclusion and the elimination of discrimination in any form. We support vulnerable young people through educational programmes that create the conditions in which they can achieve their integration and improve their quality of life.

Young people face many sorts of fragile environments and contexts, from being a child soldier to having to live with violence and gangs. However, displacement is frequently at the root of their vulnerabilities and therefore we work very often with refugee populations. In their case, discrimination is a clear risk factor. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, xenophobia is a source of concern. It is hard for displaced young people to find decent jobs, and very often the youth have little or no access to the educational system.

In other contexts, refugees may have language barriers or cultural differences between themselves and the population of the host country. We have witnessed these challenges through our experience of protecting young people and their families in 28 countries, since our inception. Today we continue to do so in Afghanistan, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Lebanon, Turkey, Venezuela, Ecuador, Panama, Costa Rica, Colombia and Belize. In addition, we have just started working in Mexico with programmes promoting the development of resilience and self-reliance. We bridge the gaps which separate young people from education, livelihoods, income-generating activities or access to services (health, legal, protection and more), within and with the host communities.

Discrimination has a strong impact in all aspects of society, diminishing productivity, political stability, social cohesion and peace. The basis of discrimination is mistrust, which occurs most often through misconceptions about others, especially if the refugees are perceived as different or strange.

Discrimination is not natural or inherent in human beings. It is a learned behaviour transmitted within families, homes and communities often through emotionally charged biases. Negative messages in the media can strengthen the rejection of people because of their race, culture, nationality, gender or sexual preference amongst other reasons.

The question, in this case, is how can we deal with discrimination in these particularly harsh realities?

Governments can promote policies that favour integration, which would benefit their populations as well as the refugees they host. International agreements such as, for example, the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants can offer inspiration for such policies aiming to protect people against bias and discrimination. Governments therefore play a key role, but we too, as organisations and individual citizens, have a responsibility to develop a dialogue about differences, cultural diversity and integration. Sometimes the person who discriminates simply does not have enough information to change his or her own mind-set.

We are facing one of the most challenging times since World War II, with record-high numbers of forced displacement. The UNHCR’s Global Trends estimates that in 2015 65.3 million individuals were forcibly displaced worldwide, 21.3 million of which were refugees, 40.8 were internally displaced and 3.2 million are asylum-seekers.

That is why we need to understand these humanitarian needs and see the world as a whole, as a unit. Food and shelter are essential needs, but modern crises tend to be protracted and so integration becomes essential as well. Celebrating and recognising cultural diversity, respecting values and beliefs, promoting collaboration and solidarity are all elements of the solution to today’s crises.

How RET Faces Discrimination

  • Through the campaign “What Unites Us”, a movement created with young refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean, aiming to promote acceptance and integration into their host communities.
  • By developing events which celebrate cultural differences through sharing traditional foods, customs and songs, as we do regularly in Turkey. Children and young people share their experiences with others easily and they learn very fast about social cohesion and inclusion.
  • Some other very effective activities include street actions, such as peaceful demonstrations with messages of integration and calls to stop discrimination. RET organised one of these events last November in Lebanon, making sure the voices of those wishing to end violence against women were heard.

 Other interventions include:

  • Giving psychosocial support to our participants around the world, making sure they understand discrimination is not normal and reminding them that all must demand respect as members of a community.
  • Opening safe spaces and community centres, physically and virtually (through blogs and social media) to exchange different points of view and to hear other voices celebrating cultural diversity.
  • Developing interventions respectful of Human Rights and the protection of children and young people.

Finally, facing discrimination also requires always working hand-in-hand with the host governments and local host communities. This ensures that actions are well received, that they are within the priorities of the local government and can therefore have the highest impact possible for both the refugee and host populations.