UN Youth Forum: Empowered, Included, Equal

Jayathma Wickramanayake (centre), UN Youth Envoy, delivers a statement during the opening session of ECOSOC. Photo: Evan Schneider

“While young people are right to be impatient at my generation, we must work together if we are to tackle the challenges we face. All of us have responsibilities — young and old,” said Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, President of the UN General Assembly, at the opening of the Economic and Social Council Youth Forum (ECOSOC).

The ECOSOC Youth Forum, which took place this week at the United Nations’ headquarters in New York City, addressed the theme “Empowered, Included, and Equal”, giving 1,000 young people a global platform to discuss the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, and the Paris Climate Agreement.

María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés (left), President of the General Assembly, delivers a statement during the opening session of ECOSOC. Photo: Evan Schneider

Over the course of two days, the discussions provided them with an opportunity to exchange ideas on innovative solutions to issues of relevance to young people on the implementation of the 2030 Agenda, and also on the Sustainable Development Goals.

IOM co-hosted two side-events during the Forum. The first, Relevant Education for Young People on the Move, highlighted the findings of UNESCO’s interactive Youth Report based on the larger 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report on ‘Migration, displacement and education: Building bridges, not walls’. The second, Youth at the Center of Local and National Migration Policy, engaged UN member states and entities, civil society actors, and youth on the ‘next steps’ for meaningfully engaging and including youth in governmental policy-making processes.

Men displaced from Shangil Tobaya farm rented land for the rainy season in Dali, close to Tawila in the Sudanese state of North Darfur. Photo: Albert González Farran

Today, nearly 28 million of the estimated 258 million international migrants are youth. Whether on their own or with family, youth are increasingly migrating in search of security, improved standards of living, education, and protection from discrimination and abuse.

A responsive and inclusive policy at all levels, with youth at the center, can help to create inclusive, equitable, and sustainable communities around the world. At the national and local levels, they can play an important role in shaping the lives of young migrants. Since cities serve as the epicenters of human mobility, local authorities are well-positioned to take on integration challenges for youth, such as widening access to education and employment. National policies can also assist local authorities working on the ground by providing resources and by ensuring a favorable policy environment.

Youth, and young migrants, in particular, are agents of social change and economic development around the world. However, much of this potential remains untapped. Integration challenges, including unemployment and lack of accessible and youth-specific health services, prevent youth migrants from contributing to their host societies.

Secretary-General António Guterres makes remarks during the closing session of the ECOSOC Youth Forum. Photo: Mark Garten

This is where national and local migration policies can become a critical entry point. National and local governments can facilitate the meaningful engagement of youth, and in particular, youth migrants, to inform, design, and implement policies. Nothing for youth, without youth. In turn, inclusive policies with youth at the center will bring benefits to both migrants and their host communities.

But this isn’t just a conversation about youth migrants.

This is about young people as a whole having the space and tools to shape the future they want. This is about young people sharing their experience to help inform, design, and implement responsive policies and programmes. This is about young people being agents of change, and having a seat at the decision-making table.

As UN Secretary-General António Guterres noted during the closing session of the Forum, “Young people in our world today are a lightning rod for change.” So, to migrants and non-migrants we say: let’s get to work.


This article was written by Amira Nassim, Migration Policy Officer at the IOM Office to the United Nations.