AYP Member, Jess Auerbach talks about her work around refugees and Migration

Q. Can you please introduce yourself

My name is Jess Auerbach. I’m from South Africa and lived there until pursuing postgraduate study in the United Kingdom and USA. I plan to return as soon as possible.

Q. You have done a lot of work around refugees and migration, in your opinion, how can young people who have gone through forced migration and lived as refugees be integrated back to the society?

There are many causes for forced migration, and how refugees are integrated or reintegrated depends both on what their experiences have been and whether they are going back to their country of origin or somewhere new. How long they have been away, what languages they and the relevant community speak, their age at leaving and so on are all very important factors. Because of all this, I think it’s hard to give an answer that speaks to all refugees everywhere, and therefore the most important thing to do in helping refugees resettle is to speak with them, to hear their stories and to adapt accordingly.

Q. What has been the impact of forced migration and wars on children and young people in Africa?

For many young people conflict has deprived them of ‘childhood’ as it is understood in the west, as a time of innocence and play. At the same time, the reality in most of the rest of the world is that children are capable of taking on significant responsibilities, and usually do so with incredible skill. Conflicts in Africa have meant that children have had to learn to take care of themselves and others in ways that have often deprived them of education and other opportunities – this is something that has been very difficult. Added to that is the loss of relatives, mentors and friends that has come about from war, and the impact of such losses can be enormous. Yet it has also taught young people real skills, and the challenge facing societies across Africa is how to harness these skills now.

Q. What can the International community, non-profit organisations and Governments do to prevent the outbreak of war?

That’s a big question and I will only give a short answer – there is a lot more that can and should be said. Firstly, the international community should pay attention to how trade decisions, investment and international policies are made in their respective countries, and lobby governments to act ethically, not allow the trade in arms and create equitable access to international markets. This is much more difficult than watching films like Kony2012. Kony2012 brings me to the next part of my argument, because the controversies around the film really showed how important it is for non-profits to do really good research before they decide to take on issues that other people and organizations have been working on for years. The idea that outsiders can magically ‘fix’ Africa is one that is really tiring to encounter, but it is also relentless and persistent. Africa is not ‘broken’ – rather it is part of a complex global system of agreement, disagreement and trade, and non-profits need to acknowledge the complexity of each project they work on if they are to have any success. Finally, governments – well, it depends which government and where of course, but I do think that paying real attention to the population is key – the world is changing fast and many are no longer willing to accept the status quo; this is a real challenge for many states, but it is an exciting time too, where dialogue between government and citizenry is possible in new ways.

Q. Are there any positive sides to forced migration?

Absolutely! Forced migration is usually traumatic, but if individuals are given the right kinds of support and educational opportunities, it can also be a forum for becoming cosmopolitan, learning about the world and sharing experiences between people of diverse backgrounds and nationalities. Many people acquire valuable linguistic, technical and sometimes professional skills, and these can be used both to help the country or countries in which they spend time and their country of origin. Sometimes we don’t choose what happens in our lives, but travel always widensone‚Äôs knowledge of the world .This can be extremely useful and those who possess such knowledge and experience should be admired for what they have gained, as well as supported in terms of their losses during conflict. When there are many people compelled to act, the regional and international community are also forced to pay attention, and in solving long-term political crises this can sometimes be helpful.

Q. What next after your Doctoral degree, would you be back in Africa?

Yes, I would like to come back as soon as I can. My hope is to teach at a university either in South Africa or Mozambique, but I am open to other options. At the moment I am beginning to dialogue with Brazil, which has a tremendous interest in Africa, particularly students from the former Portuguese colonies, and I hope to participate in many kinds of dialogue with them. I am excited at the idea of working with students from Africa again – it is wonderful to spend some time here in the US, but it is not my home, I want to come back.

Q. Where do you see the African Youth Panel over the next 5 years?

In 5 years time I hope the AYP will have a sustainable funding structure, a clear vision and implementation plan of what projects it will support and how, and a forum for dialogue that is accessible, inclusive and multi-lingual.

AYP Member, Jess Auerbach talks about her work around refugees and Migration

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