Empowering Youth with Lived Migration Experiences: Interview with Syrine Rekhis, President of VOICIFY – The European Forum for Youth with Lived Migration Experiences

Policies that are co-designed together with migrants and refugees are still scarce. However, this issue has been receiving more and more attention in recent years, and there are many organisations and projects working towards more inclusivity in decision-making. Examples of such initiatives include some of UNITEE’s projects, such as the MILE project and the UNITES project.
Voicify is a recently founded umbrella organisation that aspires to promote inclusive decision-making and goes a step further by focusing on a specific target group: young migrants, who the organisation refers to as Y.R.E.M.A.S.U.D. (young refugees, exiled, migrants, asylum seekers and undocumented). Voicify trains and mentors YREMASUD advocates, empowering them politically and promoting their equal participation in policy-making processes.

Voicify participated in the 4th Public Participation and Deliberative Democracy Festival in Brussels. The annual event brings together different players around citizen engagement, deliberative democracy, and policymaking, featuring sessions about the importance of democratic norms and participation. The 2022 edition of the event centered around the topic of youth participation, making it particularly relevant to Voicify’s mission.

Read our interview with Syrine Rekhis, President of “Voicify – The European Forum for Youth with Lived Migration Experiences”.

UNITEE: What is Voicify? What is your mission, why and how do you plan to achieve it?
Syrine Rekhis: VOICIFY – The European Forum of Youth with Lived Migration experiences is the first-ever European umbrella organisation representing young people with lived migration experiences at the European and international levels. Voicify counts 35 founding members, based in different EU member states, representing over 100 000 young people with lived migration experiences.
We aim to be the voice of YREMASUD (Young Refugees, Exiled, Migrants, Asylum Seekers and Undocumented) in the EU and of their self-led organisations. We stand up and advocate for our rights and interests, including our rights to organise, participate politically and be self-represented. We are striving for an inclusive Europe where we are considered as an integral part of Europe, empowered and encouraged to achieve our full potential.
Our work focuses on three pillars. We want to develop the capacity of our members, to advocate at the European and EU levels, and elaborate a strategic communication aiming to inform the large public and switch the misconceived narratives.
Voicify recently became an organisation. The Founding General Assembly was held in November 2022 where the statutes were adopted and its first board elected. For the past 2 years, Voicify was a project carried by two migrant-led organisations – The Young Republic and Voices of Young Refugees in Europe, respectively based in Strasbourg, France, and in Stockholm, Sweden, aiming to develop the capacities of organised and non-organised youth with lived migration experiences in advocacy and accompany them in launching their national advocacy initiatives and integrate the EU level advocacy for their political participation. This project gave birth to the #PartOfEurope Report and to founding the Umbrella Organisation.

U.: Why was it relevant for your project to participate in the 4th Public Participation and Deliberative Democracy Festival and why is it so important today to enhance young migrants’ voices through democratic participation?
S.R.: The 4th Public Participation and Deliberative Democracy Festival gave us the possibility to bring to the table different perspectives when it comes to democracy. In fact, in many European events, the migration topic is more addressed from a charity perspective than from a participatory approach.
As 2022 was the European Year of Youth, This edition of the festival was a great opportunity to raise the role of youth political participation. In today’s Europe, the day-to-day lives of millions of YREMASUD are impacted by policies, regulations, laws, and decisions that are made without their involvement or input. This represents a fundamental democratic deficit across Europe at all levels (local, national and European). As YREMASUD, we are most excluded from formal political activities, and have an even greater need for alternative means of political participation, as mentioned in the Public Participation and Deliberative Democracy Festival.

U.: What do you think are the main challenges for young migrants’ democratic participation? How could these challenges be overcome? What is the role of policymakers in improving the level of young migrants’ democratic participation?
S.R: Our report #PartOfEurope, that results from the first EU-wide consultation of organisations led by young people with lived migration experiences, highlights the main challenges for young migrants when it comes to political participation. Among these challenges, we can mention the following:
European supremacy, nationalism, systemic racism and other forms of discrimination towards YREMASUD
The shrinking space for migrants led NGOs. Indeed, their work is being limited by different authorities and also other civil society organisations.
The obstacles and barriers within administrative procedures to create, register and run our own self-led organisations.
The difficulties in accessing funding: non-accessible criteria (discriminative criteria not allowing every NGO to apply), lack of information and transparency. These difficulties affect the autonomy and the activity of YREMASUD led organisations. Because of these challenges, most of them can rely only on volunteers.
These challenges could be overcome if we build a strong ecosystem that represents us, and is led by youth with lived migration experiences to make our voices heard by policy-makers and decision-makers. Indeed, they play a key role in developing a more democratic EU.
It will rely first on them to understand that political participation for all is a priority in today’s Europe. They can contribute by ensuring the active participation of the youth with lived migration experiences in different decision-making processes. Giving us the possibility, as YREMASUD, to organise, empowers us to have a positive impact in the countries or continent where we reside. It is necessary to switch the narrative from a charity perspective to a participatory approach.
Over the past two years, the work of Voicify and the report were endorsed by various MEPs from different political groups, including former European Parliament Vice President Sylvie Guillaume. The Committee of the Regions also refers to it as a best practice.

U.: What were your main takeaways from the 4th Public Participation and Deliberative Democracy Festival?
S.R.: Having spaces like the Deliberative Democracy Festival to discuss the current state of democracy is essential. The fight for political participation is not limited to YREMASUD. Indeed, political participation is a Human Right. Therefore, in an inclusive and meaningfully democratic Europe, this right should be ensured for all.
From the discussions we took part in, we had the pleasure to get to see the diversity in the perspectives of political participation within civil society. There are several challenges faced by youth with lived migration experiences to access their right to contribute in promoting democracy within the EU.
Our online attendance limited us from benefiting from the in-person activities and sessions.

Read more about Voicify here.

About Syrine Rekhis:

Syrine Rekhis is the President of “Voicify – The European Forum for Youth with Lived Migration Experience”. Syrine has been active in civil society in the fields of Human rights and democracy since 2011. Currently, she is the vice president of The Young Republic Organisation, Co-founder and former president of Inno-PEACE, having coordinated and supervised several projects mainly in the fields of education, health and advocacy, and part of the Networks UNESCO GCED, NECE, NACE. As a civic Education and Advocacy freelance educator, she delivered more than 3000 hours of training sessions and workshops with SALTO, UNESCO, Goethe Institute, Academy of policy research-CAP Munich, New Tactics in Human Rights, IFMSA, AEGEE Europe and others since 2012. She is a medical doctor with a MSc in Neuroscience. She loves long walks, deep conversations and is passionate about theater, reading and music.


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