“We are all children, and we all have rights”: This World Refugee Day, we celebrate the power of children’s participation

To truly understand and meet the needs of children on the move, we must put children at the heart of refugee responses. Giving refugee children a seat at the table and empowering them to participate in decision-making will leads to better policies and protection of their rights.

Earlier this year, Terre des Hommes supported Sofia, a 15-year-old girl from Ukraine who is now living in Romania, to be part of an intergenerational dialogue on protecting children on the move in times of crises during the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. On World Refugee Day, we highlight some of Sofia’s recommendations for governments:

“Children who left home because of the war have not chosen this path. They are not guilty for that. Because of the war, children lost everything they had, including their education and the things they could develop with. Governments should improve children’s education. It is an important part of children’s lives, and we can’t just stop living because of the war that came into our country. No-one knows when war will end. But access to our rights should not stop and start.

If children don’t agree with how their rights are respected, the government should hear them talk about these issues because one of the most important child rights is to share our thoughts freely and the right to be heard.

The government should organise events … so that people hear from refugees and children who experienced leaving their homeland and coming to another country with nothing. After that, people will understand and be more welcoming and they will change the way they think about refugees. Children like me have an experience that not all children have had. But at the same time, we are all children.

Sofia has always dreamt of travelling the world and going to space: she wants to be an astronaut one day.

But for now, she hopes for peace: “My dream would be that I could come back home. Violence in our country and in our world is not correct, it’s not right, and it must not happen anywhere, never again in the world”.

Policies and programmes to support refugee children are more effective when they are informed by the views and experiences of children like Sofia – children who know what it means to be forced to leave their home and find safety and protection in another country. Sofia wants to be heard and for governments to act:

“I hope that people listen to me so that I can make a difference for my country and other countries that experience war, and that violence in other countries and in my country would stop so that there is no more pressure on kids and they can live a happy life, with no madness or violence against children.”

For guidance on engaging refugee children safely and ethically as key actors and partners, read the publication published by Destination Unknown, a network led by Terre des Hommes, and IICRD: ‘Working in Partnership with Children & Young People on the Move – Strategies for Meaningful Participation’.