The first UN Youth Climate Summit in New York on 21 September provided a platform for young leaders who are driving climate action, allowing them to showcase their solutions.
The summit should offer a space for young people to meaningfully engage with decision-makers on the defining issue of our time. It is meant to give young people a chance to speak up and represent their communities.
In July, The UNDP office in Sudan decided to support two youth champions to attend the summit, they conducted a thorough selection process among the youth activists in the country.
I was contacted by the office in August informing me that I had been chosen to represent Sudanese young people at the Summit along with another young female climate activist named Lina Adil.
Lina and I were happy and excited to get this huge opportunity to represent our country and take part in such an important Summit. We began our visa process right away and the UNDP office requested an expedited appointment for us at the US Embassy in Khartoum.
In an email to the US embassy, the UNDP Sudan office wrote: “As a part of UNDP mandate and its social responsibility towards youth community, we have conducted a thorough selection process amongst the youth and have selected the below mentioned as they have made very substantive contributions in the field of climate change.
"We plan to use them in the future as nucleus for forming a youth group and to engage them in climate change-related advocacy and work amongst the youth and the communities at large. Therefore, we would appreciate your support in facilitating an appointment for them to apply for the entry visa and/or advise on the appropriate way to get such visa.”
Lina and I then spent weeks working on our contribution to the summit and planning ways to share the experience and knowledge we'd gain back with the youth activists in the country.
After weeks of waiting, the US embassy finally got back to us saying that we are not eligible for an expedited appointment and therefore they refused our request.
I was extremely disappointed in their decision. It is unfair that attending such a conference is a privilege that young people like us can’t have because of our passports.
Sadly, Lina and I were not the only young people who missed the conference because of visa issues. Greta Thunberg highlighted this issue in a recent tweet.
Nasrullah Elham, a 17-year-old afghan climate activist who founded the Laghman Peace Volunteers (LPV) initiative was also denied a visa.
Fathi Bash, a Somali youth activist renowned for his groundbreaking campaign for the promotion of Sustainable Development Goals in Somalia, tweeted that he won’t be able to attend the summit because of visa issues as well.
I truly find it quite ironic that the whole point of this summit was to showcase young activists from all over the world, especially from developing countries, yet US embassies in several countries have denied or did not process a visa for many of those activists.
I still believe that the Youth Climate Summit is a strong example of what our generation is doing to address urgent climate action, even though I think these ridiculous visa issues could be a desperate attempt to oppress young activists and prevent them from speaking up.
Borders will never be able to stop this generation from acting as one.
Lina Yassin is a 21 year old Sudanese climate activist, she coordinates MENA projects at Climate Tracker and been working on raising the level of environmental awareness in the region since 2016.
Image: Goran H, Pixabay.