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Ambassador Hamamoto: Remarks at Global Refugee Youth Consultations
June 14, 2016

Global Refugee Youth Consultations

People converse around a table
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi and Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto participate in the Global Refugee Youth Consultations.

Closing Remarks by Ambassador Hamamoto
Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Good afternoon.  Today, we are confronting two important challenges. On the one hand, there are more young people in the world than at any other time in human history. You’ve heard their hopes, but also their concerns.

On the other hand, wars, conflict and persecution have forced more people than at any other time since World War II to flee their homes and seek refuge and safety elsewhere. Many of them are young people – and I agree, Mr. High Commissioner, we, the humanitarian community, haven’t done enough for them.  The unique capacities of young refugees are often overlooked…their aspirations misunderstood…their needs rarely met.

That’s why this dialogue is so critical, and the United States is proud to be a part of it.  I would like to thank UNHCR, the Women’s Refugee Commission, Switzerland, and all the countries and NGOs that made the national and global consultations possible.  This yearlong process is coming to an end, but this is just the beginning of our work.

These incredible young men and women – those who are here with us today, and all those they represent – are showing us the way forward.  Please, let’s give them a big round of applause.  With the “Core Actions for Refugee Youth,” they have given us a roadmap.  And it is now our collective responsibility to support all the recommendations of this document and to help UNHCR and other key stakeholders with its implementation.

But they’ve also reminded us of something even more valuable – that to live together, we have to understand each other. Bringing together host community and refugee youth was crucial for this consultation to succeed, because humanitarian situations don’t exist in a vacuum.  In the United States, the integration of refugees is supported by local youth councils and youth groups, which are important for building bridges and establishing relationships in our communities and states.

Clearly, as evidenced by Aya’s remarks about her own experience, we have work to do on this front.  But it is something we are focused on – integration is very important to us.

Here, too, with these global consultations, these young men and women worked hand in hand with young people in their host countries, overcoming stereotypes and cultural and language barriers.  They discussed the challenges they face, their visions for the future, and the support they need.

Fifty years ago, almost to the day, Robert Kennedy went to the University of Cape Town to address the youth of South Africa.  He told them he’d talked to young people all over the world, and what impressed him was not their diversity, but the closeness of their goals…their desires…their concerns…and their hope for the future. Similarly, in all these consultations, you proved that what matters is not how different young refugees and young people in host countries are, but how close their goals are.

Education…jobs…that’s what you want – in addition to real opportunities to participate, as the High Commissioner noted.

This feedback, and the messages you bring, are critical for the international community to hear.  The importance of youth engaging governments, humanitarian actors, and other stakeholders is highlighted in UN Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security.  And the United States will continue to advocate for the active engagement, consultation, and participation of youth in decision-making.  You are not just a statistic to us; you are not invisible.

You may have heard that President Obama will convene a Leaders’ Summit on Refugees during the UN General Assembly this September.  I previously mentioned education and jobs.  Well the fact is, too many young refugees have been robbed of the chance to go to school.  Education is not only an investment in an individual’s growth, it is an investment in a country’s future, and an investment in sustainable peace.

The targeted outcomes of this Summit are to increase the number of refugees enrolled in school, and to increase the opportunities for legal employment in hosting countries.  We’re working hard to make these goals a reality, so that you can take advantage of such opportunities.  In fact, all of us – governments, business, NGOs and international organizations – have to work hard to meet the needs voiced today and the concerns expressed during the consultations.

As we continue this dialogue and look for solutions, let’s remember Robert Kennedy’s speech in Cape Town, where he said that “the answer is to rely on youth – not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity.”

Let us all have the will, the imagination, and the courage to give these young men and women, and all those they represent, the opportunity to achieve their full potential.

Thank you.