As part of “Voices and Future of Refugee Youth from and on the Arab World” week marking World Refugee Day and its ongoing programs to shed light on the conditions of refugees in the region and its research efforts aiming at amplifying the voices of the most marginalized groups among them, Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD) launched its new study “Voices of Palestinian Refugee Youth across the Near East: Socio-Political Participation and Aspirations”
The study sheds new light on the Palestinian refugees, by focusing on a usually politically marginalized segment of their communities: refugee youth, whose perceptions and aspirations about their status within their communities and within their host societies, as well as about their future, are important albeit often muted.
The study focused on youth who are –or aim to be– politically and socially active, primarily from camps, in Jordan, Lebanon, the occupied Palestinian territory, and Syria. By involving over one hundred young male and female Palestinians (most with current or past experience in social programmes or volunteer activities), the study tried to capture, through focus group discussions and eye-to-eye interviews, the voice of these youth on important issues. These included: their social and political status within their communities, the larger Palestinian ‘polity’ and the host society at large; the challenges and opportunities that shape their socio-political mobilization; their political consciousness as Palestinians and as young (camp) refugees; and how these factors intersect with and impact their aspirations.
When it comes to the future, this study identifies some trends among youth. On the one hand, there is an organic connection between individual aspirations and collective issues concerning the future of Palestine and the Palestinian (refugee) people at large. As with past generations, youth remain vocal advocates of the right of return, which they describe as existential, sacred and not renounceable. On the other hand, they believe that the quest for the right of return and the right to self-determination cannot be achieved at the expense of their human rights, namely other rights. They also believe that pending a settlement of the Palestinian refugee question, UNRWA’s mandate should be preserved and its activities enhanced.
This study indicates that youth see no future in remaining marginalized, poor, disenfranchised, stateless and “deprived of the right to have rights” in their (host) societies. Pending their ‘return’ to Palestine, they ask for their overall empowerment: capacity building good education, access to decent jobs and, last but not least, “political space”. This empowerment is seen as critical to the realization of their own aspirations. However, these aspirations are expressed in different ways according to the reality in which they live: “living one’s Palestinian-ness” while remaining “loyal to the state” in Jordan; getting “recognition” and “rights as human beings” in Lebanon and in the oPt; and “helping the [Palestinian] cause everywhere,” including from the diaspora as the respondents from Syria said.
It remains unclear what opportunities young refugees can be offered in the current political context in Palestine and the region at large. Nonetheless, Palestinian refugee youth seem to have both the enthusiasm and the critical capacity to help revamp the Palestinian narrative and achieve historical justice through the realization of collective and individual human rights.