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Child and Youth Migrants: Global and Interdisciplinary Perspectives

Posted by ucfaram at Jul 01, 2014 02:50 PM |

- MRU Student Conference


by Claire Dwyer

A student conference initiated by a group of Msc Global Migration students in 2011 has now become an annual event with the third Migration Research Unit (MRU) Student Conference held on Saturday 14th June 2014. Only weeks after their arrival at UCL a committee of five Msc Global Migration Students (Karin Ander; Nancy Landa; Vanessa V. Landeta; Gabriella Morrone and Lauren Shaw) was formed to organise the conference. They quickly settled on the topic of Child and Youth Migrants – an incredibly important topic given the fact that 35 million children are today living outside their country of origin and yet are under represented in much research about migration. The students quickly navigated their way to organising an impressively slick event which surpassed previous conferences in its international breadth and ambitions.



If research on children and youth migration is still relatively limited it’s clear that it’s is a growing area of interest for young researchers as evident in the excellent range of papers presented across four panels at the conference.  All the presenters were masters and graduate students and this year we had a truly international range of speakers coming from universities in the US, South Africa, Germany, Belgium, Australia, the Netherlands and Ireland as well as those with national origins in Thailand, Lithuania, and Iran.  The first session focused on education and included papers on the incorporation of refugee children in schools in San Diego; aspirations towards education for migrants in South Africa, many from Zimbabwe; and a fascinating paper about the ways in which children of migrants from neighbouring states to Russia are racialized, provoking debate about citizenship and Russian identity. A panel on young people and the law lead to discussion of the contradictions around definitions of ‘the child’, particularly in relation to unaccompanied minors. Child migrants are defined as lacking in agency and needing protection – and yet should also be recognised as resilient workers who contribute to their families. Examples were drawn both in relation to child migrants to Thailand, and the experiences of migrant children in ‘transit countries’ such as Malaysia and Mexico.

The theme of legal definitions and status was picked up again in the third panel which included detailed case studies of the marginalised experiences of Afghan children in Iran and the difficulties faced by child asylum seekers returned to Albania and Kosovo from the Netherlands. The fourth panel of the day focused on health and well being considering questions of how migrant children are often excluded from health care provision because of their irregular migration status. It went on to ask how interventions might be made for refugee children. However at this point I was babysitting for one of the panellists so did not catch all the papers! The last panel focused on questions of home and belonging for child migrants in Belgium and Ireland, exploring creative methodologies for engaging with young people.


During the conference I was struck by the fact that all thirteen conference speakers and the five chairs were young women, certainly not the norm for most academic conferences. I think it says something about their passionate concern for the vulnerability of marginalised and excluded children articulated alongside an emphasis on the need to recognise and celebrate young peoples’ hopes and aspirations. The quality of presentations and discussions was excellent – with the vibrant buzz continuing through the coffee and lunch breaks. There were lots of interconnecting themes and some important conversations about the challenges and ethics of doing research with young people; lines of comparison between legal regimes and frameworks in different countries as well as the possibilities for collaborative work, particularly with NGOs.

The final keynote was the dynamic and passionate migrant activist, Carlos Saavedra, former national co-ordinator for the United We Dream Network in the US.  Carlos recounted the story of the DREAMer movement which campaigns for educational and legal rights for young undocumented migrants in the US many of whom came as children with their parents.

Carlos’ talk was an inspiring insight into the strategies of a direct action campaign which seeks to ‘change the story’ about migrants focusing on their contributions as citizens (articulated particularly effectively through a symbolic blood drive – ‘Will you take our illegal blood?’) and as aspiring students (campaigners wore gowns and mortar boards). He ended with some quotes from a PhD thesis about the movement talking about how academics and activists might collaborate in challenging immigrant injustice. In the UK to explore connections with wider youth and immigrant activists, Carlos is now seeking to build broader alliances of youth-led advocacy mobilisations.

The conference was a testimony to the energy and enthusiasm of the dynamic students which the interdisciplinary Msc Global Migration attracts.

Photos and more information about the conference will be posted soon on the student conference blog where you can also see abstracts of the papers.

About the author: Claire Dwyer is a Senior Lecturer at UCL Department of Geography and is co-director of its Migration Research Unit. Her research is focused on the themes of race, racism, ethnicity, transnationalism, religion and migration.

Faith says:
Jul 22, 2014 09:36 PM

It was a wonderful conference !

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