UCL News


£1 million to research care of child migrants

19 March 2019

Researchers from UCL and the Open University who travelled to ‘the Jungle’ refugee camp in Calais to see how unaccompanied child migrants live have secured £1 million from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to study the care of lone child refugees.

Calais camp

The new research project will investigate how child migrants who are separated from their parents care for each other and what happens when they arrive in the UK.

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.

Lead Co-Investigator, Dr Rachel Rosen (UCL Institute of Education) and Principal Investigator, Dr Sarah Crafter, a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the Open University had their interest sparked after watching a news report about unaccompanied child migrants in Calais camps, and how they cared for each other. Dr Rosen and Dr Crafter then travelled to ‘The Jungle’ refugee camp 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,” said Dr Crafter. “It was this that led us to researching the care they received once they reached the UK.”

Dr Crafter says that when unaccompanied children arrive in the UK they face conflicting treatment, “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. Care in that situation becomes an ambiguous concept.”

Dr Rosen added, “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. 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 system in England.”

The project will work with organisations such as the MEENA centre in Birmingham and Refugee Youth, alongside Barnardo's and the Refugee Council, to recruit and train young adults from migrant communities to gather research data. These young people will connect to children who arrived as separated child migrants in the UK to find out how they care for each other and discuss their experiences of the welfare and immigration system. The research team will gather data from around 60 children aged 11-18 years old; most of these will be refugees from Eritrea, Syria, Afghanistan and Albania.

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 policy makers and charities.”

The research results will be used to help children understand their own treatment and care as they go through 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.

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.



Credit: Malachybrowne via Flickr 

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