Research project

Youth Transitions in Protected Crisis

Funded by DFID, Youth Transitions in Protracted Crisis focuses on young people who are refugees and highlights the challenges and strategies youth employ to create adult lives in difficult environments. The research took place in urban and camp settlements in Uganda and Jordan working with various refugee groups aged 10 -24.

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Start date

January 2015

Completion date

January 2017

Employing a participatory co-produced methodology, the research sought to inform policy and programming at national and international levels. See the Story Map for a visual representation.

Forced displacement is a critical global issue. Rising refugee populations are of significant concern in regions where mounting tensions have led to outbreaks of insurgency due to political, economic, religious, ethnic and social pressures. Further, protracted displacement has become the norm in some areas with states existing in a cycle of perpetual crises. Of particular concern are the 600 million young people living in fragile or conflict areas across the globe and over half of refugee populations under the age of 18.

DFID is responding to this difficult and changing context by examining the effects of protracted displacement on youth transitions. The focus on youth reflects growing policy interest in addressing the challenges created by forced displacement on trajectories into adulthood, for young refugees. This research is intended to contribute to addressing a knowledge gap in understanding how displacement affects youth transitions to inform better policy and programme design.

The participatory and youth-led research discussed in this report has been undertaken in Uganda and Jordan with young refugees aged 10-24 years old. In Uganda, the research worked with participants originating from Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In Jordan, young refugees were from Syria, Iraq and Palestinians from Gaza. In both countries, young participants have been drawn from camp and urban settings, with 505 young people involved in surveys, 80 in focus groups, 92 giving narrative interviews and 25 producing story maps that give deep insight into youth experiences, 14 of which are published in the online story map.

Factors Affecting Transition

The research provided new conceptual insights into the processes of transition and the specific challenges encountered by children and youth affected by protracted displacement. The key findings from each context are highlighted in the box below. The research indicates that becoming a refugee is a rupture in the transition to adulthood, which has multiple consequences for young people to establish adult lives in host countries.

Key Findings: Uganda

Education. Participants recognised the importance of education both as a marker of transition to adulthood and as a prerequisite for obtaining quality employment. However, youth reported a range of barriers that affected participation in education, including: loss of certificates, making it difficult to recommence education; hidden costs within a ‘free’ education system; language barriers; discrimination and harassment; conflicting home responsibilities; and a lack of school places, particularly in Nakivale, the rural camp settlement.

Work and livelihoods. The transition into work is a key life stage for young people. For refugees, this is frustrated by the lack of labour market opportunities in both urban and camp settings; low competitiveness of refugees due to unfinished education; lack of social connections; discrimination; and language barriers.

Family life. Marriage and family formation is viewed as a means to establish social status. This may be unavailable to young refugees because of dowry and wedding expenses; lack of a suitable match; conflicts with future aspirations such as permanent relocation; discrimination; and a sense of instability where marriage may worsen conditions for all.

Key Findings: Jordan

Education. In Jordan education is perceived as vitally important, but was a source of frustration for research participants. Young people highlighted the loss of documentation from home countries, meaning that they were placed in the wrong grade. The variable quality of education within a two shift system, where refugees take the second shift; limitations on subject choices, costs of access to higher education; and conflicting family responsibilities were all identified as barriers.

Work and livelihoods. Work is highlighted as a primary pathway into adult life. However, options in Jordan were limited by legal restrictions on the types of work available to refugees; a lack of national ID numbers; and discrimination and exploitation in the workplace.

Family life. Similar to Uganda, opportunities to marry and establish family life were constrained by the costs of dowry and wedding arrangements; discrimination that limits the potential to make a good match; a lack of assets and stability can delay marriage; and concern that getting married as a refugee closes off other possibilities.

The research identifies four conditional factors that shape the transitions of youth into adulthood.

Traumatic experiences of becoming and being a refugee. Experiences of violence and loss has a deep effect on psychological wellbeing and sense of self. Displacement is a break in the continuity of growing up, affecting expectations about the future. Becoming a refugee affects ideas of belonging and efficacy and is described by participants as being a ‘partial life’ compared to the lives they anticipated.

Temporal: the ‘temporary’ lives of refugees. Despite the long term nature of displacement, temporariness remains central to both humanitarian policy and the expectations of refugees. Strongly held imaginings of the future as depending on a return home or permanent relocation lead to decisions not to invest in the present. However, not realising these imagined futures leads to frustration and risk taking.

Social relations: the importance of networks. The research demonstrated that displacement breaks networks and bonds important for social capital. The loss of these connections impacts on the construction of identity and links to cultural heritage. It can also lead to fractures within refugee communities, particularly where there is experience of discrimination or sectarianism. Many of the transition pathways that rely on social relationships as a source of information or support are unavailable to refugee youth.

Institutional conditions: navigating rules. The rules and regulations that define status and govern the everyday activities of refugees have a major impact on transitions. Institutions have a practical impact on freedom of movement, work, education and the accumulation of assets as well as a more subtle effect on social status and the ability of youth to make plans for the future.

Conclusions and Recommendations

Based on analysis of the data and feedback from both young people and stakeholders in each country, the research has identified the following recommendations.

  • Improve the integration of services to develop a more holistic approach to delivery, centred around the needs and experiences of the person/family. Better information flows and engagement, using community-based providers and networks, would aid targeting and planning.
  • Address deficits in system capacity, particularly in education, to ensure the availability of fully funded school places at primary and secondary level and scholarships into higher education. Country-level partnerships could be used to identify and tackle procedural barriers that impede transitions.
  • Improve the relevance and targeting of skills and training to connect with labour market demand and young people’s preferences. Create opportunities for employer-led vocational training and pathways; the provision of careers information and increased capacity for enterprise skills, training and start-up.
  • Create enabling conditions that improve accessibility of transition pathways through education, work and family life by removing bureaucratic barriers.
  • Increase the involvement of young people in debate and policy making, recognising the unique value of their direct experience.

Full report reference: van Blerk L and Shand, W (2017) Youth Transitions in Protracted Crises: Synthesis Report, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK.