In the recent years, and notably starting in 2015, European countries have been facing an unprecedented inflow of migrants and refugees. This reality brings new challenges that call for cross-sector integrated responses, where youth work has a key role in promoting inclusion, integration and social cohesion in the short, medium and long term.

In the EU-28, more than four in five (83 %) of the first-time asylum seekers in 2015 were less than 35 years old and those aged 18–34 years represented slightly more than half (53 %) of the total number of first time applicants. Nearly 29% (3 in 10 applicants) were minors - less than 18 years old. This age distribution was common in almost all the EU member States. Therefore, the development of solutions for the inclusion and integration of young refugees should be a priority for authorities, international organisations and civil society, particularly for the youth sector.

Many of the refugees and migrants fleeing to Europe from armed conflicts, mass killings, persecution and all different kinds of violence (including sexual and gender-based violence) travel to Turkey, from where they undertake life risking journeys by sea to Greece. From there, they try to make their way through “the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia and Austria to reach their destination countries, that include often Germany and Sweden.

The journeys are dangerous as they face extortion and exploitation, border closures, lack of housing and health support and some groups such as single women and unaccompanied children, are among those who are particularly vulnerable and that require a co-ordinated and efficient protection response. UN agencies such as UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), UN Women and UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund), together with different governments and civil society organisations, have been providing the humanitarian emergency response but there is also the need to reflect and create solutions for faster inclusion and integration.

At European level, the Council of Europe and the European Union have taken concrete decisions and actions to respond to the humanitarian situation and to start working on inclusion and integration, including specific initiatives focused on young refugees.

There is an ongoing reflection on how to promote a more co-ordinated and efficient integration of young migrants and refugees. Themes such as integration in the schooling system, access to labour market, inclusion and participation in public life, are amongst the key issues that need to be tackled together by different stakeholders to contribute for a long-term integration of these young people.

Youth work providers have a key role in this context as they have the capacity to read and adjust quickly to new realities, a longstanding experience in working towards inclusion and diversity in societies and the capacity to put forward innovative ideas that link knowledge, policy and practice.

Some of the themes currently tackled in relation to the youth sector and young refugees are:

  • Challenges related to access to rights, and particularly social rights or access to information and procedures
  • Transition towards autonomy of young refugees
  • The role played by youth work in the integration of young refugees in host societies
  • The youth sector response to issues such as trauma, waitinghood and well-being of young refugees
  • The general question of inclusion of young refugees in hosting communities
  • Intercultural relations between hosting communities and young refugees
  • Supporting the participation of young refugees, including their participation in youth work, youth organisations and youth projects
  • Discrimination, hostility and hate speech towards young refugees
  • The capacity of youth workers to work for and with young refugees
  • Specific questions related to young women and girls.

In this context, different organisations and institutions took an active role in approaching the themes of young refugees’ inclusion, participation and rights. In October 2015, the Council of Europe’s Joint Council on Youth of adopted a Statement on the refugee crisis in Europe recalling the the need of providing young people, including young refugees and asylum seekers, with capacity building opportunities to achieve inclusive and peaceful societies. In November 2018 The Council of the European Union adopted conclusions on youth work in the context of migration and refugee matters which states the ‘inclusive nature of youth work should be applied to support the inclusion of young third country nationals into the new hosting society, while respectfully being aware that their inclusion process starts from a different point than that of local young people.‘

On the other hand, more and more organisations and institutions at European level sought ways to reinforce the role of youth work in relation to young refugees. Several youth NGOs, some of which are also included in this publication, explored how they can involve young refugees in their activities, advocate for their rights and support youth work activities including young refugees. Another example concerns the Erasmus + projects, among which “Becoming a part of Europe”, which also looked into ways youth work can be an effective tool for young refugees to participate and be included.

The work of the partnership between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth has focused on building knowledge and offering practical guidance for the youth field.

Recommended resources

Council of the European Union: 2018 Conclusions on the role of youth work in the context of migration and refugee matters

Council of Europe Joint Council on Youth : Statement on the refugee crisis in Europe 2015


This page was last updated by Cristina Bacalso and Dan Moxon in December 2018 and
includes text by the team of the EU-CoE youth partnership for this website.