July 2015 - Panama
Young refugees in Panama are creating opportunities through which they can have a positive impact on their host communities. A recent example of this was their participation in the commemorative activities of World Refugee Day and the Integration Fair on June 20th organised by the Ministry of Interior of Panama (Ministerio de Gobierno) and the National Office for Refugee Attention (ONPAR).
Many engaged organisations were present for these events, such as: the Panama Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, ONPAR, the National Institute of Women (INAMU), the Panamanian Red Cross, the Norwegian Refugee Council, HIAS, the Human Mobility Pastoral or the Jesuit Refugee Service. Our team was of course also there, but more importantly, the young people with whom we work were present as well.
Young people who have been participating in RET’s programme (may they be refugees or from the host community), have learned that they can become positive actors of their communities. They have learned to organise themselves and the results show in occasions such as these.
They were actively involved in these events and managed to make their message heard. This message is “What Unites Us”, and it is at the centre of a regional awareness raising campaign to fight xenophobia and promote tolerance. The campaign (http://loquenosune.org) is coordinated by RET, but is developed by different youth groups throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.
These refugee youth stressed that they can contribute to their host communities and that they are present, organised and ready to build a new reality of greater solidarity and cooperation. One of them explained it perfectly to those present: “We are not here to keep crying about what happened to us, but to lift ourselves and keep going. That is why we insist on saying positive things and on looking for WHAT UNITES US, because it is by starting there that we can move on.”
This empowerment of vulnerable youth is an important aspect of RET’s work on the prevention of violence, discrimination and xenophobia in the region, but it is just one of the components of an integral strategy. We take a holistic approach to ensure that young people in refugee situations, along with their families, find safe spaces to rebuild their lives.
Through these types of activities, or by navigating the streets of the city in contact with the local communities seeking dialogue, these young people are succeeding in creating larger spaces for tolerance. By doing this they are not only creating safer environments, they are also learning to be positive actors of society and future leaders.