Teaching Refugee Youth to Be Leaders and Peacebuilders


4 minutes

Celebrating the achievements of the refugee youth after the leadership training.
Celebrating the achievements of the refugee youth after the leadership training.
Photo courtesy of Jessica D.

For nine months, I worked as a Programme Consultant for the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), one of the largest refugee rights networks in the world.

Although the Asia Pacific region hosts the majority of the world’s population of refugees (roughly 9.5 million), only 20 of the 45 countries in this region have signed the United Nations 1951 Refugee Convention. With over two-thirds of refugees in the Asia Pacific living in urban contexts in countries without domestic laws protecting refugees, many face significant challenges to accessing adequate housing, employment, education, and healthcare.

In this complex political environment, APRRN is a unique platform for its members to collectively advocate for refugee protection at a national, regional, and international level.

The APRRN has diverse membership that includes refugee service providers, human rights activists, lawyers, academics, community-based organizations, and refugees and asylum seekers themselves. This allows the organization to leverage the knowledge and skills of its network to undertake advocacy initiatives that impact all levels of stakeholders and policymakers from local communities to the United Nations.

These refugee women are actively involved in supporting their communities as youth leaders.
These refugee women are actively involved in supporting their communities as youth leaders.
Photo courtesy of Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network

Empowering Refugee Youth Leaders

One of the most interesting and rewarding aspects of my work with APRRN was the opportunity to be involved with the initiation of the Youth Working Group (YWG). The YWG began as an informal group of APRRN members interested in participating in the Global Refugee Youth Consultations. This was a year-long process led by the Women’s Refugee Commission and the UN Refugee Agency that brought together refugee youth from across the world to discuss the challenges they face, their hopes for the future, and the ways they can be better supported by the international community.

To follow up on the lessons learned from this process, the YWG was established as a unique platform within APRRN, chaired by refugee leaders themselves, that works towards connecting refugee youth across the region to strengthen their capacity to be active participants in APRRN’s advocacy.

What inspires me about the YWG is their belief that refugee youth are best placed to speak to their lived experiences as refugees – and their recognition that as refugee rights advocates, it’s important for us to invest resources into cultivating refugee youth as future community leaders and peace-builders.

To support the work of the YWG, I helped design a project to empower refugee youth to emerge as leaders both in their communities and globally. We implemented a pilot training program aimed at strengthening communication skills, nurturing their leadership potential, and cultivating human rights awareness to empower these youth as agents of change.

Refugee youth empowerment is an important mechanism for social change and a fundamental step towards ensuring that refugee youth can participate in and contribute to the creation of a society that recognizes and values their humanity.

Refugee youth practice their debate skills during the leadership training.
Refugee youth practice their debate skills during the leadership training.
Photo courtesy of Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network

Social Impact

Following the successful implementation of the refugee youth leadership program, several of our participants took the skills they learned and developed their own strategies for advancing the awareness of the plight of refugee youth in Asia.

One young woman travelled to Geneva to speak at the annual consultation of NGOs and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to represent the hopes and concerns of urban refugees. After connecting through the leadership training, a group of refugee youth is now developing a mentorship program linking other youth refugee activists with senior refugee leaders.

Others have taken a more academic route and are engaged in formal coursework on peace activism, community organizing, human rights, and media communication with help from our APRRN members.

One participant now uses the skills developed during the training in her work running a community-based school for urban refugees.

My understanding of leadership has changed because of this training. I understand that leadership doesn’t only mean I have the power to decide by myself but it’s an authority given to do things for the benefit of others as a person who can achieve great things.

Without the support of the InterExchange Christianson Fellowship, APRRN would not have had the resources to implement this leadership program for refugee youth. Therefore, I would like to sincerely thank the InterExchange Foundation for providing me with the opportunity to help refugee youth be a force for positive change in their communities.

Jessica D.

Jessica volunteered in Thailand with the help of a Christianson Fellowship, from the InterExchange Foundation.

U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation