The PEARL research project recently conducted focus groups (1) and interviews (5) with youth workers and experts in Greece. The goal was to gather insights into the needs and barriers of youth from a migrant and refugee background regarding their participation in the civic and political life of the country. They were also asked about ways to facilitate civic and democratic participation among young people from those backgrounds. These young people often face restrictions in democratic participation, and the aim of the focus groups/interviews was to identify the ways in which youth workers can help them overcome these barriers.
Barriers and Needs
Several barriers to civic and political participation of migrant and refugee youth were noted. Those were broken down into general/structural, societal and lastly individual levels.
Structural barriers to political participation for migrants and refugees in Greece included legal restrictions on voting, limited institutional capacity, bureaucratic delays causing mental health issues, limited voting and election rights, a hostile institutional framework, and anxiety around legalising residence status. In terms of societal barriers migrants and refugees in Greece face several issues, including language barriers, discrimination, inadequate services, social obstacles, and Islamophobia. Discrimination among migrants and refugees is also present, further worsening prospects of inter-community cooperation in some cases. Lastly, youth of migrant and refugee background, in Greece also face individual barriers to political participation, including lack of information, fear of speaking out, trauma, lack of a clear path, and geographical exclusion. Especially regarding the last point, the closure of the ESTIA program, which provided housing on a basis that favoured the inclusion of people from a refugee and migrant background, which led to the return to the geographically isolated refugee camps, has exacerbated the marginalisation of all those who have a refugee or migrant background, including youth. These barriers can prevent them from engaging in important decision-making processes and civic activities.
Addressing these barriers was mentioned to be of paramount significance, requiring a multifaceted approach that focuses on education, representation, interpretation, and integration at all levels.
Need for Education and Information
One of the key findings from the focus groups and the interviews was the need for education and information. Many young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds are unaware of their rights, opportunities to participate in democratic processes, or even simple everyday matters regarding social life in the country. They may not understand the political system in Greece or the ways in which they can become involved. Therefore, youth workers can play an important role in providing education and information on democratic participation, including the rights and responsibilities of citizens and also cultural nuances.
Furthermore, youth workers themselves mentioned that in some cases, they also require additional training in specific areas, such as improving intercultural communication and conflict management skills.
The Importance of Inclusion and Integration
Another important finding was the importance of inclusion and integration. Young people with non-EU nationalities often feel excluded from society and may not feel like they belong. This can be a significant barrier to democratic participation. Therefore, youth workers can help by promoting inclusion and integration, providing opportunities for young people to connect with their communities, and advocating for their rights.
Focus Group and Interview Findings
The findings from the focus group and the interviews referred to several aspects and levels of migrant and refugee youth civic and political participation. Firstly, there is a need to provide education and information on democratic participation to young people in general. This can include information on the political system in Greece, the rights and responsibilities of citizens, and the ways in which they can become involved. Secondly, there is a need to promote inclusion and integration, providing opportunities for young people to connect with their communities and feel like they belong.
Youth workers can play a role in teaching migrant and refugee youth how to advocate for their right to democratic participation. They can work with policymakers and other stakeholders to ensure that young people are included in decision-making processes and that their voices are heard. One key factor is encouraging refugees to speak up and share their experiences and difficulties. This can help to raise awareness and promote understanding of the challenges they face. It is also essential to provide education on research tools, laws, and human rights, as this can help refugees understand their rights and responsibilities and navigate complex bureaucratic systems.
Language learning is another important factor, as it can help refugees better integrate and participate in political discussions and decision-making processes. Vocational guidance and recognition of professional competencies and qualifications can also help refugees find employment and join the workforce more easily. Advices, steps or resources that can be helpful for this would be crucial. Additionally, resources on psychological empowerment sessions and seminars can help refugees build confidence and self-esteem, which can be essential for their success in civic and political life.
The focus group and interview findings highlight the importance of facilitating civic and democratic participation among young people of refugee and migrant background in Greece. Youth workers can play an important role in providing education and information, promoting inclusion and integration, and facilitating the advocacy of young peoples’ rights. By doing so, they can help to create a more democratic and inclusive society in Greece. Nonetheless, it is crucial to coordinate and support their efforts at a central level, with policies and initiatives that reduce the marginalisation of refugee and migrant youth.