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IOE co-leads research understanding the lives of lone child refugees

19 March 2019

A research project has secured £1million of funding from the Economic and Social Research Council to investigate how child migrants separated from their parents care for each other and what happens when they arrive in the UK.

Child in refugee camp (Photo: DFID - UK Department for International Development on Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0])

Led by Dr Rachel Rosen (UCL Institute of Education, Lead Co-Investigator) and Dr Sarah Crafter (Open University, Principal Investigator), the project team will work with young researchers within refugee communities to gather data on how migrants and those involved in their care make sense of, and value, care relationships and practices.

The project will work with local organisations such as the MEENA centre in Birmingham and Refugee Youth in London, alongside Barnardo's and the Refugee Council, to recruit and train young adults from migrant communities to gather research data.

Dr Rosen said: “Our pilot studies indicate that a crucial way separated migrant children survive the challenges of migration and settlement is through the care they provide and receive from other migrant children. Yet, we know little about this care. This neglect means that policies and practices designed to support separated child migrants can end up harming, excluding or discriminating against them.”

“We went to ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais to investigate how child migrants coped, and to build links with charities working in the area. It was incredibly moving and hard to put into words how horrible the situation was. But understanding life in the camp wasn’t possible without a view of the children’s’ migrant journeys and the appeal of the UK as a destination. It was this that led us to researching the care they received once they reached the UK,” recalls Dr Crafter.

Care becomes an ambiguous concept when unaccompanied children arrive in the UK and face conflicting treatment. Dr Crafter says: “On the one hand we have a duty of care because of their child status so we must protect them, but on the other hand their immigration status means they are sometimes treated with suspicion or hostility.”

Dr Rosen adds: “Our research seeks to fill this gap by generating new knowledge of separated child migrants' experiences of care, and caring for others, as they navigate the complexities of the immigration-welfare nexus in England.”

Researchers will gather data from around 60 children aged 11-18 years old; most of these will be refugees from Eritrea, Syria, Afghanistan and Albania.

The research results will be used to help children understand their own treatment and care as they go through the welfare and asylum system and build connections to other young migrants. The project will support practitioners who work with child migrants through online resources, and study the wider cultural, political, economic backdrop of care influences institutions and individuals who work within them.

Professor Alison Park, Director of Research at ESRC said: “UNICEF estimate that, by the end of 2017, there were 13 million child refugees and over 900,000 asylum-seeking children worldwide. ESRC is pleased to be funding this UK-based research that will help us better understand how child migrants separated from their parents provide care and support for one another while navigating complex immigration and welfare systems. It will help create and develop best practice in the care and support of this vulnerable group and will provide valuable insights for policymakers and charities.”

The project is a collaboration between the Open University, UCL, University of Liverpool, the University of Northampton, the University of Oxford, the University of Bedfordshire and Coram’s Children’s Legal Centre. It begins in May 2019 and will run until July 2022. 

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