3rd International Mayors’ Conference NOW Vienna
Austria, 30 – 31 January 2017
On 30 – 31 January 2017, about 160 Mayors, experts, local politicians, MEPs, refugees and NGO-representatives from 22 nations gathered in Vienna to discuss the situation of children on the move. At the Third International Mayors’ Conference NOW, curated by Viola Raheb, 4 panels and 12 workshops offered space to discuss main problems and share solutions in an area which is often overlooked, even though children make up half of all current refugees. In addition, three round tables provided insights into municipal and European perspectives and refugees shared their stories and experiences.
Apart from country-specific contexts, all children share the same needs for shelter, security and hope. However, the reality of refugee children is often far from providing any of these. The situations they flee from: war, terror and poor living conditions, have increased their general vulnerability. In this situation, opportunities and perspectives for children and their families need to be ensured, and assistance must not be restricted to basic need response only. Furthermore, refugees face social and economic exclusion, which puts them close to or under the poverty line and extends their vulnerability on multiple levels.
In this environment refugee children are rarely granted their rights as defined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Children born in transit countries like Lebanon for instance, often remain without birth registration and citizenship. As a consequence, they can officially neither enter Syrian territory, nor remain in the hosting country.
If accompanied, the children’s protective nucleus would be their family. But in their struggle to survive, families often simply cannot keep their children safe. In this context the phenomenon of early marriages increases even in Europe. It is linked to poverty and family reunion and often entails sexual abuse of minors. As a consequence of smuggling debts and restricted access to labour markets, economic exploitation increases, and smuggling and trafficking become intertwined. Growing up in such circumstances with an insecure future ahead causes traumatisation. Children need a perspective. Education is an essential basis on which they can build a future. Refugee children need inclusive teaching methods, trauma relief and empowerment in order to support their integration and development to their full potential within society.
Next steps are required
Children are the most vulnerable members of society and especially those on the move. They have special needs, which have to be met by an integral approach to avoid the emergence of a “lost generation”. This goal requires long-term commitment of human and financial resources. As a follow-up to the third NOW Conference, NOW Working Groups are being set up to work on the topics of education, exploitation, traumatisation and gender, and a team of Mayors from different countries is working on a toolkit to provide simple and feasible guidelines on the communal level.
“We pledge to continue developing and sharing our best-practice examples, to stand up for an open society, which shall protect the weakest and welcome those in danger with open arms and an open heart.”– DECLARATION OF THE 3RD INTERNATIONAL MAYORS’ CONFERENCE NOW IN VIENNA 2017