KhadijaResearch has shown that the children and grandchildren of migrants tend to be more educated and have better-paid jobs than earlier generations. This upward mobility is one of the positive aspects of international migration.(2)

This does not rule out the possibility that children of migrant families may have feelings of alienation. Like Khadija, young people of immigrant descent often feel caught between two cultures. Their struggle to find their place may bring them into conflict with members of their families and ethnic communities but also with members of their new society. Many feel that they are weighted down by traditional expectations about appropriate attitudes and behaviours for men and women, even as their circle of friends and social environment present them with other ideas. They may also feel the pressures of conforming to norms in their new communities that may not coincide with their own values or personal choices.

Parents may not understand their children’s choices and perceive them as rebellion against their own authority. They try to work out the difficulties, but some react with restrictions, especially for adolescent girls, including taking them out of school, secluding them at home, placing oppressive limitations on their participation in social or sporting events with their friends, and in the most extreme cases, with violence and abuse. Arranged or forced marriage of daughters with someone from the “old country” is one strategy for immigrant parents to ensure that their daughters remain true to their values.(3) Daughters are also seen as a prized “visa” for the future groom. In Norway 82 per cent of daughters of Moroccan immigrants married Moroccan citizens between the years 1996 and 2001.(4) The proportion was 76 per cent for Norwegian daughters of Pakistani immigrants for the same period.(5) Marital arrangements can also work the other way around: young women from countries of origin find themselves married off to men who have migrated abroad, but want a wife from their own cultural background.

Overall, immigrant girls do better in school and fit in more smoothly than boys into the society of the country of settlement. Immigrant girls report more positive attitudes toward integration and use the national language more than boys.(6) In contrast, boys generally are more likely to approve of separatism and feel more discriminated against.(7) Young men may also become enforcers of traditional customs on their female peers.

Entire enclaves and neighbourhoods of immigrants can grow up, as families arrive to join their relatives and settle where they can find familiar social and religious institutions. These enclaves play a positive role in helping newcomers find jobs and settle down in the receiving country. But migrant enclaves can also reinforce barriers to social and economic adjustment and change. Children may have less education and linguistic skills, and become marginalized from the local community. Employers often discriminate against young migrants from certain ethnic groups. In Europe, racism and discrimination against young people of Moroccan and Turkish origin is often cited as a reason for their high unemployment rates. In 2000, the unemployment rate for workers of immigrant descent in Germany was about 16 per cent, more than twice the national rate.(8)

Young men lacking economic and social prospects may be susceptible to ideas that promote confrontational attitudes with the establishment.(9) Efforts to attenuate and prevent violent confrontation should focus on socially and culturally alienated young men, as well as economically marginalized and underprivileged young men from all communities. The political, cultural and economic integration of young people of migrant descent to their new countries should be facilitated by policies that address integration and participation in schools, community and political and economic institutions. In schools, teachers need to be trained to prevent racism, xenophobia and discrimination.

Some countries and communities focus on enhancing young people’s educational prospects, improving their transition from school to labour market, connecting them to labour networks and eliminating barriers that limit their access to civic participation.

Measures can be taken to prevent discrimination and exclusion. Promising practices to combat xenophobia and racism include mentoring programmes, like the one run by Peacemaker in the UK, which pairs at-risk youth with mentors from a different ethnic background.(10) Successful programmes also seek to reach out to migrant parents and community leaders and involve them in integration efforts aimed at their youth.

Fortunately, there is a growing recognition across receiving countries that integration is a two-way process, requiring adaptation not only by migrants but also by institutions and communities of the country of settlement, and that to be successful it must take place in four spheres of life: economic, social, cultural, and political.(11) Nowadays there is a plethora of initiatives at the local level, among employers, unions, community groups, and the public, providing language support, mentoring, advice, access to jobs, and means of participation in civic society.(12)

Increasingly, countries see the need to grapple with the situation of disadvantaged youth of immigrant descent. For example in Europe, where the friction arising from migration has brought policy and public attention to marginalized youth, four European heads of state called for the EU to establish a “Pact on Youth”. The pact focuses on education and training to eliminate the marginalisation of young people and enable the European Union to reach its economic goals.(13)

In addition, the Council of Europe launched a campaign from June to September 2006 aimed at youth with the theme “All different – all equal” emphasising human rights, participation, diversity and inclusion.(14)