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Young people’s voices on forced migration

What are children taught about forced migration as they grow up? Which media influence them? And what kinds of stories and images shape their understanding? Just as importantly: what do children themselves think? How do they understand or imagine the experience of being displaced or becoming a refugee? And what impact can their voices have on how we all visualise, talk about and address forced migration, locally, nationally and globally?

Diana Forster’s art installation ‘Somewhere to Stay’ provides a valuable opportunity to engage young people in inclusive, reflective conversations on this complex topic – and to hear what they have to say. Our approach is informed by our wider research into children’s voices on war and peace, and we are working closely with the educational charity Never Such Innocence to run schools workshops and give children opportunities to create art, poetry, speeches and songs that reflect what they have learnt and what they want to communicate.

All around the world, young people’s childhoods are saturated in imagery, narratives and experiences of war and its aftermath. By 2019, 1.6 billion children were living in a country affected by conflict (that is 69% of children globally). As well as direct violence, they suffer follow-on impacts such as famine, sexual abuse, disruption to education and displacement. Meanwhile, children living far from battlefields absorb stories of war and its many legacies via popular culture, museums, news and educational resources; stories curated largely by adults, which condition how they engage with conflict and its aftermath as they mature. Despite the multiple ways in which children are exposed to conflict from a young age, they are usually not seen as worth including in discussions of war’s impact or prevention. 

This is largely true of discussions of forced displacement too; despite many children becoming forced migrants themselves, it is often assumed that only adults are ‘expert’ enough to comment authoritatively on it or make meaningful contributions to policy-making. The inclusive, child-oriented journalism of publications like First News represents an encouraging counter-example, for instance here and here. For some powerful child-centred storytelling on the topic of forced displacement, we strongly recommend Dina Nayeri’s book The Waiting Place, which is the basis of a successful school outreach project. UNICEF’s Unfairy Tales use animation to narrate three true stories of child refugees.

As with our wider work on war and peace, we are keen to explore a range of empowering mechanisms – all involving different kinds of storytelling, in a range of different media – that understand children as children but also recognise and centre their expertise on this challenging topic. Working with Diana Forster’s new artwork Somewhere to Stay, we encourage learning about different histories of forced migration, while helping the young people we engage with to develop awareness of their agency in shaping how we all visualise and address forced migration in future.

You can find out more about our schools workshops here, and we will share a range of young people’s reflections on forced migration as our project develops.