Violence and persecution in Afghanistan compelled me to leave the country at the age of 14. This was not easy, especially because it was only my second timeleaving my hometown and the first without my family. I ended up in Indonesia; I became an asylum seeker. I waited one year to be recognized as a “refugee” by the United Nations High Commissioners for Refugees (UNHCR), then another two years to become eligible for the resettlement program to the United States.
I lost three years as a result of living in limbo. When I entered the States, I was seventeen. Since I was an unaccompanied minor, I was placed in Federal Foster Care. Eventually, on my 18th birthday, I was enrolled in Washington State’s Extended Foster Care program; there are only 15 states that provide Extended Foster Care services for unaccompanied refugee minors.
Unaccompanied Refugee Minors (URM) and Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) are the two types of U.S. non-citizen youth that might enter Federal Foster Care (aka URM, UAC programs) because they do not have any adult family member in the country. Mostly they will reside in group homes until their 18th birthday. In Washington state and 14 others, these youth can receive Federal Foster Care URM program services up to age 21. Federal Foster Care is focused more on teaching life skills and setting up for independence, rather than finding a permanent placement. Although, this system can be very effective and helpful it is still challenging for youth. These youth are far from the people they know and their home communities. The majority of URMs and UACs entering the country are about 15-17 years old. That means, depending on the state, the youth have about two years to become as independent as possible. When English is not their first language, achieving that goal can be particularly difficult.
There are more similarities than differences between a homeless youth, foster youth and an unaccompanied refugee/migrant youth. A homeless youth may lose their home because home is not safe or accepting, or home doesn’t exist anymore. A foster youth loses home as result of neglect, abuse or domestic violence. A refugee/migrant youth can be displaced from home due to war, persecution or terrorism. They have all been forgotten by their societies. They are not able to dream because they are surviving and when you are surviving you cannot dream. Refusing to listen to the stories of these talented youth can cause regret in the future for society. The main difference between these youth is their birth place. We know many things they experience are very similar.
Whenever I sit down with someone who has been in traditional foster care or has experienced homelessness, we share the same values and hopes for our generation. We can talk for hours about times that we were not heard, about times we felt not included in society and about times that people have let stigmas shape their interactions with us. The list of shared experiences could go on and on. The most important task is to have a better understanding of homelessness youth, foster youth, and refugee/migrant youth. We must build a bridge to include all our youths’ voices to have a secure future for our next generations. It is our responsibility to prepare every possible opportunity for youth to help them reach their highest potential in society.