Lost in transition? Lived experiences of unaccompanied Afghan minors in Greece
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This thesis is a qualitative case study that explores the experiences of unaccompanied Afghan asylum seeking minors in Greece – a largely neglected area empirically, in migration-related social science research – despite the fact that migration has been an issue of mounting concern recently. The study sets out to bridge this gap hence, to provide insights of the paths of young people as individuals in their own right, and of the dynamics and processes of their forced migrations. The research contributes to contemporary debates about migration and childhood. The thesis takes a broader approach that highlights the connections across borders and covers the multiple facets of unaccompanied minors’ experiences and feelings; pre-exile, during journeys, and on arrival in Greece. The future plans and motivations of the young respondents are also discussed. Information in relation to young respondent’s experiences, emotions and thoughts was collected in a series of in-depth interviews, focus groups and participatory activities. Data was also gathered by professionals and public figures with the aim to identify how these young people are treated and perceived inside and outside of the reception centres in Greece. The data indicates that these young respondents are deeply and negatively affected by experiences of loss, separation, discrimination, abuse, and long-lasting hardships to be found throughout their histories of movement. Their accounts are renegotiated tales where notions of belonging and identity are shaped along the way, and the boundaries drawn around childhood and adulthood are often fragile and fluid. The events of young people’s movements are reported as having been poignant, rendering them in a continuous, transitional state of existence. This stage ‘in between’, it is argued to be intricately entangled with the prolonged political insecurity which in some instances, extents to the condition of statelessness. The analysis of young respondents’ experiences revealed an overt gap between entitlements which are theoretically attributed to unaccompanied minors, regarding their social, political and legal rights – irrespective of their legal status – and pragmatic barriers to be found on the ground; on the streets, at borders, in detention, in police stations, and in reception centres, these young people are imperilled to the process of dehumanization. This process is understood to be a product of social and political violence implicated in local and transnational contexts. A combination of structural factors and practices has been found to be compounded by inhuman actions such as; the commodification process, the classification process, poverty, stigmatization, institutional racism and the ambiguity of political status. The findings further indicated that young respondents had mixed and distinct feelings of their experiences and responded to the process of dehumanization in very different ways; some developed robust resilient mechanisms along the way and formed important social networks for their survival and others felt powerless, and incapable mentally to lead their lives. The data indicated that the type of care and support varied significantly among the reception centres. There was a spectrum of attitudes towards the presence of the young respondents, showing sympathy and welcoming responses but also prejudice, stereotypes and xenophobia. These appeared at professional, government and public levels. Implications are discussed in relation to the punitive policies and practices that demoralise the rights and needs of the young people, hence potential strategies are suggested for reforming aspects of the child welfare/asylum system. The thesis concludes that these young respondents have a uniquely strong claim to social and political rights that will give them back their lost ‘ordinariness’.