agency; transnationalism; unaccompanied minors; education; youth; Turkey; uncertainty; Switzerland
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This project will look at the educational pathways of young unaccompanied asylum seekers aged between 14 and 21, a group whose access to education is frequently described as at-risk. Starting from the premise that with the increasing force of globalisation the international mobility and precarity of young people is also bound to grow, we will explore the strategies unaccompanied refugee youth in two different national settings deploy to enhance their educational possibilities. By focusing on Switzerland (sub-project A) and Turkey (sub-project B), two countries with high numbers of unaccompanied minors but very different institutional frameworks and responses, we aim to gain insight into how young people navigate their ways through landscapes of extreme uncertainty and change. Based on two in-depth ethnographic studies, the goal of this project is to come to a better understanding of how different legal, political and educational frameworks restrict or enhance young people’s educational opportunities.Turkey and Switzerland, whose migration policies operate at once within and outside of the border regime of the European Union, offer an illuminating basis for such a comparison: As a gateway to Europe, Turkey occupies a crucial geopolitical position and has taken on a major role as first country of asylum for vast numbers of refugees, initiating a shift from identifying as a country of emigration to one of immigration. In the absence of an asylum system for non-European asylum seekers, many refugees perceive Turkey as a transit country, as a stepping stone on their way into other European countries. However, for a large number of asylum seekers the opportunities to move on are restricted and they are confronted with the necessity of creating stability in an environment that is marked by impermanence. The Swiss example is characterised by different dynamics: Landlocked between European Union member states, many refugees and migrants perceive Switzerland as a place of security and social and economic possibilities. Yet, as the high rejection rate to asylum applications shows, the reality proves to be very different and rather than a destination Switzerland becomes another transit country. While the dynamics in Turkey and Switzerland are marked by different characteristics, they both produce highly contingent situations, establishing (enforced) transnationalism and mobility as a new normality for many young people and raising the question of how these changed conditions form and transform their educational pathways. In comparing the lived experiences of young unaccompanied asylum seekers in the two countries, we intend to establish how different degrees of control and uncertainty, and agency and ambition impact on young people’s educational biographies. Building on previous research that has pointed out the severe educational barriers refugee and migrant youth face both in Turkey and Switzerland, this project is guided by the question of how young unaccompanied asylum seekers actively deal with these hurdles. Using methods such as visual and narrative storytelling and extensive periods of participant observation in formal and informal educational spaces (like schools, state care facilities, youth centres, NGOs, charitable organisations or diasporic networks) we will shed light on the ambiguous interplay between agency and restraint that marks young unaccompanied asylum seekers’ transnational biographies of education. As such this project will offer an important contribution to the emerging body of research on transnationalism, youth and education from a perspective that regards children as active agents in migratory processes.