In October 2019, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Jayathma Wickramanayake, visited Greece on her first-ever official mission to the country.
The mission began with a visit to the city of Thessaloniki, where the Youth Envoy met with leaders from across the UN family and its partners to discuss the situation for young refugees and asylum seekers – with an emphasis on the need for interaction between refugees and host community and the positive role that many young people play in this regard. Today, Greece is home to over 80 thousand refugees and many of them are young people – including four thousand unaccompanied minors.
She had the opportunity to visit several youth-focused projects, such as the ReACT project (Refugee, Assistance, Collaboration, Thessaloniki). ReACT – which is a partnership between the Municipality of Thessaloniki, UNHCR Greece, YMCA Thessaloniki, and funded by the European Commission – is an innovative humanitarian project that ensures decent living conditions for refugees and asylum seekers.
She also visited the DIA-drasis center, run by YMCA Thessaloniki, where early childhood education is implemented through the use of multicultural and multilingual activities. Education – formal and informal – is instrumental in bringing young people from different backgrounds together, for them to exchange views, build friendships and ultimately strengthen integration and social cohesion(the Greek word “Diadrasis” means “interaction”).
The Envoy further visited the Hellenic Theatre, Drama and Education Network (TENet-Gr), which is a great example of an innovative organization that uses art, dialogue, and creative learning processes to empower young people to interact positively.
In Thessaloniki, the Youth Envoy also met with the young volunteers. Together they discussed many of the issues that are of particular concern for young people, such as;
- The need for improved access to education on sexual health and rights;
- Ways to enhance dialogue between young people and decision-makers to amplify youth-led climate action, such as the youth-led movement Fridays for Future;
- How to rebuild young people’s trust in formal political institutions.
She also met with the UNESCO Youth Club in Thessaloniki who have translated the #Youth2030 Strategy into Greek, in partnership with UNRIC Greece and the UN in Brussels, to make our shared mission more accessible to the community. Thank you so much for that wonderful initiative!
The Youth Envoy continued the second part of her mission in the city of Athens, where she attended the Athens Democracy Forum in the birthplace of democracy. The forum brought together diverse voices and perspectives on how to reinvent and reinforce democracy through new models of governance and citizen engagement.
Jayathma’s engagements revolved around the disenchantment people feel about their elected leaders and political institutions. Although young people in many places are turning away from formal politics, they are not less political, and their commitment manifests in different ways. Lack of accountability, transparency, and representation have, in fact, prevents young people’s meaningful participation. To reinvent liberal democracy we must overcome these barriers so that young people can engage with and shape their future.
The Envoy’s main message to the distinguished audience:
“Participation is a right, not a privilege.”
Times of crisis often call forth the dynamism, flexibility, and openness of young people, and since 2015 young people and volunteers have played a formidable role in the Greek refugee-response. Experiencing this first hand, the Youth Envoy paid a visit to Kycklos, a volunteer-run open integration centre in the city center of Athens. Kycklos is a project that is supported by the Greece office of UNHCR and the European Youth Initiative Fund and which is led by young refugees and asylum seekers. The centre equips young people with language, social, and entrepreneurial skills.
The Envoy also met with the Secretary-General for Vocational Education, Training and Lifelong Learning from the Ministry of Education, Mr. Georgios Voutsinos, and his team, for a good discussion of the need to implement a flexible education system to respond to the staggering Greek youth unemployment rate, the highest in the Eurozone.
Finally, the Envoy had the great pleasure of meeting the Chief Commissioner of the Scouts of Greece, Mr. Christoforos Mitromaras. The work of the World Organization of the Scout Movement and the Scouts in Greece exemplifies how, in difficult situations, young people can be resilient, resourceful and effective agents of positive change – exactly why Jayathma is a leading member of the Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action.
The power of young people is often an overlooked resource in dealing with humanitarian crises, and the Greek Scouts have been at the forefront of refugee relief. At the height of the European Refugee Crisis in 2015, the Greek Scouts addressed the shortage of medicine and volunteers in high-flow refugee areas, with a project to supply a boat of medical supplies for those in need. The organization also raised funds through donations and national campaigns to increase support and solidarity for refugees. Young people were mobilized to provide food and necessities in Refugee Camps from Athens to the island of Lesvos.
For more information about the Youth Envoy’s visit to Greece, read here: www.ekathimerini.com/245838/article/ekathimerini/community/un-official-young-people-are-spearheading-the-climate-debate