UCL Events


Virtual Events: The Making of Unaccompanied Children: From Legal Discourse to the Everyday

25 May 2021, 1:00 pm–2:00 pm

An image of a group of people holding up signs about immigration

Join this lunch hour lecture to hear from Dr Yilmaz on the unaccompanied child, from legal discourse through to the everyday.

This event is free.

Event Information

Open to







Sanaa Al-Busaidy


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About the lecture:

The management of unaccompanied children’s migration involves a complex legal framework laid out in international law which aims to give internationally recognised human rights to children. These rights involve policies and legislations to be implemented by supranational, national and local actors- creating a multi-layered infrastructure for the management of the refugee populations arriving in the EU. United Nations Refugee Agency (now IOM in Greece) is the most authoritative power that produces and circulates legal texts that materialise in the governance of the refugee children. These legal texts involve conventions/treaties, guidelines, standards, policies and legislations prepared by and for the United Nations agencies, governments and non-governmental organisations. The texts are written for specialists working in the field of refugee management in refugee camps and the UN’s experts at their headquarters. 

These texts that are written for the governance of children, (re) invent the label of the “child” and more specifically the “unaccompanied child” (UAC), a legally prescribed lexical label, discursively producing “the child” as a legal, psychological and biometric surveillance (Jacobsen 2015) subject, resulting in an ambivalent management of the unaccompanied children. In this paper, I explore how this figure of the unaccompanied child is (re) invented in legal texts and practice, when circulating in the humanitarian world via processes of decontextualization and recontextualization on national and local levels in Greece. Linked to this, I explore the tensions and disruptions/refusals that arise when this definition of the child is implemented in a shelter for unaccompanied children through a nine month long ethnography on Lesvos island.

About the Speaker

Dr Birgul Yilmaz

British Academy Postdoctoral Researcher at UCL Institute of Education

Dr. Birgul Yilmaz is a British Academy Postdoctoral Researcher at UCL Institute of Education. Her research deals with ethnographies of refugees’ language practices in spaces such as refugee camps, shelters and squats in Greece. Her research interests are language and migration, language and humanitarian governmentality, language and international law as well as the intersections of language ideologies, identity, nationalism, gender, religion and social class in diasporas.

She holds a PhD in Linguistics from School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) University of London, an MRes in Language Discourse and Communication from King's College London and a BA in English and Linguistics from Queen Mary University of London.