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A Warm Welcome? Unaccompanied migrant children in networks of care and asylum (Pilot project report)

In 2015 there was a 56% rise in applications from unaccompanied children seeking asylum in the United Kingdom (UK). Until now, there appear to be significant variations in the quality of care and support for unaccompanied children and conflicting advice and treatment across various institutions and networks. Existing research has focused on discrete aspects of these systems (e.g. foster care, social work, laws), but there is limited understanding of unaccompanied children’s overall negotiations of the lengthy, complex, and often contradictory care and asylum processes in the UK.

Also largely absent in research to date, particularly in the Minority World, is attention to the care that unaccompanied migrant children provide for other children and adults, both those they meet on migration journeys and transnational family members. There are indications that children’s caring practices may be crucial to navigating and surviving precarious migration journeys, as well as immigration processes and settlement in ‘host countries’, with separated migrant children in the UK providing an important source of information and support for others. However, literature on care has largely focused on the care of children by adults, even in the case of unaccompanied children. This is perhaps because care has often been conceptualized and enacted in paternalistic ways but also because dominant Western understandings and structuring of childhood are based on assumptions that children should be cared for, rather than do the caring.

As a result, little is known about the ways that unaccompanied children’s care networks are formed and maintained. There is also limited understanding of how children’s caring practices are understood and viewed by these children as well as the (quasi) professionals who are charged with their care and immigration status determinations in the UK. Despite the invisibility of unaccompanied children’s caring practices in most research to date, we suggest that they have potentially significant implications for asylum claims and the ways in which the state exercises (or not) its responsibilities to ensure adequate provision for unaccompanied migrant children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Further, in contexts of limited resources, marginalization and discrimination, and extreme precarity, unaccompanied children’s caring practices may be significantly constrained with implications for both well-being and equality.

Against this backdrop, A Warm Welcome? sought to investigate unaccompanied children’s experiences of care, and caring for others, as they navigate the labyrinthine asylum-welfare nexus in the UK. 

Published 2019-01-04

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