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Unaccompanied and Separated Children in Canada: Issues of Resettlement, Classifications of Risk Myriam Denov, PhD McGill University Catherine Bryan, MSW.

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Presentation on theme: "Unaccompanied and Separated Children in Canada: Issues of Resettlement, Classifications of Risk Myriam Denov, PhD McGill University Catherine Bryan, MSW."— Presentation transcript:

1 Unaccompanied and Separated Children in Canada: Issues of Resettlement, Classifications of Risk Myriam Denov, PhD McGill University Catherine Bryan, MSW Dalhousie University Michéal Montgomery International Institute for Child Rights and Development Simon Atem Unaccompanied Minor & Youth Researcher

2 Todays Presentation: Introduction to the issue of Unaccompanied and Separated Children in Canada Overview of Research Project Highlight the resettlement goals and expectations of unaccompanied and separated children Explore the lived-experiences of unaccompanied and separated children as described by the youth themselves and those who work most closely with them Classifications of Risk Discuss ramifications of these experiences Offer policy-focused suggestions

3 Introduction to the issue of Unaccompanied and Separated Children Who are Unaccompanied/Separated Children? Definitions Children and Youth The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as every human being below the age of 18. The UN defines a youth as a person between the ages 15 and 24.

4 Children and Youth Limitations of Definitions Highly variable Dependent on socio-cultural environment Many young people who arrive to Canada may not know precise age Engagement in adult roles - caregiving, providing for younger siblings

5 Definitions Unaccompanied and Separated Children The UNHCR defines a separated children as a person under the age of 18, unless under the law applicable to the child majority is attained earlier, and who is separated from both parents and is not being cared for by an adult who by law or custom is responsible to do so. Citizenship and Immigration Canada defines an unaccompanied child as an individual, under the age of 18 who is without both parents or adult who is legally responsible for them.

6 Unaccompanied or Separated? Practical Concerns and Implications In Canada, these terms are often used differently and interchangeably by various institutions Affecting… Available data The identification of children at borders and by agencies Provision of services

7 Why do Children seek asylum? Children become mobile for many of the same reasons as adults Persecution on the basis of ethnicity, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, political affiliation Reasons unique to their status as children and youth Separation from family Persecution on the basis of age Child abuse Gender-based persecution Forced conscription Trafficking and smuggling

8 Canadian Demographics Between 2000 and 2004 (based on CIC data) Of the approximately 18 million refugees worldwide, 2-5% are unaccompanied and separated children Unaccompanied Children 1, 087 Mean age of 15.2 years 39.1% female Majority from Sri Lanka, China and Burundi Separated Children 1, 683 Mean age female Majority from Sri Lanka, Somalia and Colombia For both groups of children: 52% were either 16 or 17, 30% were between 11 and 15, and 18% were between 0 and 10

9 Understanding the Canadian Demographics Between 1993 and 2003, the number of unaccompanied and separated children entering Canada quadrupled (Bhabha, 2003) Why the increase in Unaccompanied and Separated Children? 1)The changing nature of warfare 2)Perceived by families to be less likely to be detected by immigration controls. 3)Improved accessibility of travel and childrens rights discourse has meant that a small but emergent number of children may be choosing to seek out new opportunities elsewhere. 4)Anchor or bullet children, sent ahead to secure immigration routes for families.

10 Applicable Policy UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) Article 22(1), 22(2): Asylum and Family Reunification Article 37: Relating to Detention UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1989) Relating to the principle of Unity of the Family UNHCR Guidelines on Dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum (1997) Child Refugee Claimants: Procedural and Evidentiary Issues (IRB 1996) Best Interest of the Child

11 Overview of Research Project Impetus for the Research: The lived realities of unaccompanied children in Canada Pilot project: Funded by IDRC and McGill Objectives: To examine the short and long-term resettlement experiences of unaccompanied/separated children in Canada, as well as the psychosocial challenges they face following their arrival. To contribute to the development/improvement of policy and programs oriented towards the protection and integration of unaccompanied/separated children in Canada

12 Study Sample 24 Participants (to date) 7 Unaccompanied and Separated Children (5 male and 2 female) Youth were from Sudan, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Kenya and Congo. 17 Stakeholders 6 British Columbia 7 Quebec 1 Manitoba 1 Ontario 2 US How did these youth get to Canada? Unaccompanied World University Services Canada Government Assisted

13 Method Qualitative interviews with small sample of stakeholders and youth: intended to elicit thick description and depth Interview protocol developed by research team, which included a separated refugee youth

14 What does resettlement mean for unaccompanied and separated refugee youth? All the youth interviewed stated that education was their principle goal. This, according to stakeholder participants, reflected the sentiments of the majority of the youth they had worked with. The best thing about living in Canada is, you know, education (Male Youth, BC) Security – the ability to feel safe, to feel protected, to feel free to pursue a variety of interests, pass times, and options. What I really admire here is that people have quiet time for themselves, people read, not all the people but if they want it, they do it. Yeah, the freedom – that is, money cannot buy it – it is the only thing I have been able to gain without gaining conventional status. Just being here, by itself, automatically you get that freedom (Male Youth, AB) A profound need to be loved, understood and accepted Most of the cases are tragic because they all need to have a parent, whether they know it or not (Male Stakeholder, BC)

15 Overarching Context Like other migrants, unaccompanied and separated children do not arrive to an ideologically neutral context. Child Welfare Immigration Control and Security (Shamir, 2005) Most [people] are product[s] of Hollywood, product of the UN, a product of media [and] this is how they perceive us. I am here but they perceive me through TV, they perceive me through my passport and they perceive me through my accent (male youth participant, AB).

16 Unpacking the Experiences of Unaccompanied and Separated Children in Canada Although unaccompanied and separated children invoke some sympathy by virtue of their status as children, participants reported that many interactions and relationships were marked by: 1. Anti-refugee discourse 2. Anti-youth discourse 3. Racism 4. Immigration discourse Each of these is influenced by the childs age and his or her gender.

17 1. Anti-refugee Discourse Bullet Children and Collusion Perceptions of refugees have tended to be constructed around issues of identity, trustworthiness, and concerns about the circumvention of legal methods of immigration. I think that refugee is just a bad word…Theres a societal image of the refugee who is just a cheater, who is just trying to jump the queue, [who is] just trying to take advantage of this wonderful country (female stakeholder). Their association with marginalized global populations. The potential influx of other refugees they represent. Their perceived ability to consent to flight. Their status as non-citizens and irregular migrants who have chosen to evade illicit means of immigration.

18 Anti-refugee Discourse Conceived of as bullet children This perception presupposes a hidden agenda, labels the child as untrustworthy and de-legitimizes their claim for asylum. Serves to displace generalized anxiety concerning uncontrolled migration onto them Unaccompanied and separated children constructed as rational agents, and seen as having consented to flight. In some cases, [the children] do receive status. In some cases they dont because they [immigration officials] feel that the child is able to consent to being smuggled and so therefore, the child is not in need protection from Canada. They are not automatically accepted because they are children (female stakeholder).

19 2. Anti-youth Discourse The Fear of Youth Crime The classification of youth as risk occurs within a socio-political context that increasingly conflates young age and delinquency. Refugee youth do not need to transgress the law to constructed as criminal. While all youth are vulnerable to this classification, refugee youth are particularly vulnerable. There have been a few instances in the city where refugee kids have done something and they deport them...Or they just say that the refugees are causing problems in the city. There was a shooting a while ago, oh its a refugee kid, oh they shouldnt be in our country. Thats how people respond, its easy to blame. So its not just a student, its a refugee student or its an aboriginal student. People class it and then society responds by saying oh all these people are bad, look at all the aboriginal gangs, look at all the African gangs (female stakeholder, MB).

20 Anti-youth Discourse The notion that all refugee youth are potentially criminal is often fostered by the media, which by covering the crimes of ethnically and socio- economically marginalized youth, effectively established the archetypal youth criminal. The moment the police see you, if you look young, theyre like maybe youre a drug dealer or youre a bad person. Thats what they do here. Thats why [it] is not good [here], the police make it bad. You know, all the young people they are bad but they dont know whos bad, they dont know whos good and theyre supposed to know (male youth participant, MB). This archetype provokes and justifies cynical and fearful reactions to refugee youth who may, or may not, be in conflict with the law.

21 Anti-youth Discourse This has powerful ramifications for them as they attempt to integrate into their new communities. After I shared my life story with my teacher and then with my other classmates, thats when they started to know me. They came to me after [and said], oh, we thought that you were a bad person. They felt that maybe I was going to rob them, like Im going to do something bad to them (male youth participant, MB)

22 Risk and Gender In many ways, female gender serves to mediate the risk identity classification. This reflects normative, Canadian gender ideology regarding male and female children. My hunch is that girls are understood at far greater risk of exploitation and getting themselves in difficult situations, which are not their fault [and] that boys are understood as being risky to Canadian society as much as at risk. Whereas I dont think that girls are understood as being risky to Canadian society, they are more at risk. (female advocate stakeholder). These dynamics play out in terms of placement and detention.

23 3. Racism Stereotypes & Discrimination In addition to anti-refugee and youth discourse, is the positioning of unaccompanied and separated children in opposition to normative Canadian citizenry.

24 Racism and Difference For unaccompanied and separated children, markers of difference typically include age, ethnicity and language. There are people who say that I am too African. I dont know why they say that. How can I be too African? This is who I am, I cannot be someone else (female youth participant, QC). Youth are positioned as inherently unable to meet Canadian standards of hygiene, morality and intellect. There are others who keep me in a stereotype. One white guy greets another white guys hey! How are you, how are you doing, he turned to me Hey, wuz up? (laughing). I get that at a lot, people think I smoke weed and I would say 85% of people my age do smoke [marijuana] but I dont. Its not being holy or something, its just not me but they automatically - its not do you smoke, its when are we going to smoke? (male youth participant, AB).

25 Racism and Difference Their inherent difference is further emphasized by the message unaccompanied and separated children often receive that conformity to mainstream standards of appearance and language will facilitate their integration. I had a judge, my hair is in dreadlocks…and he literally commented on that. And a lot of people even before I appear[ed] in court commented, you know what, you have to cut your hair because when you appear in court, people see appearance, things like that…[but] he (the judge) was laughing at me, actually. He thought I was respectless (male youth participant).

26 Immigration Control Examples of securitization in regards to unaccompanied and separated children: Use of handcuffs Use of detention That was another shocking moment. I could say I expected, to be around be around police, I didnt expect any [kindness] in custody. I knew that when I came here, I was going to pass through this type of process. I knew that I was not legal… They arrested me and chained me, took me to detention and they kept me there for 40 days, until I proved my ID, that I was really a juvenile (male youth participant). The use of handcuffs and detention are a clear breach of the UNCRC and other policies/treaties.

27 Synthesis The four types of experiences discussed by the participants do not occur in isolation from one another. Rather they work in tandem, reinforcing each other. Prejudicial attitudes are legitimized Discrimination and Exclusion are Justified The binary: child welfare/immigration control binary cedes to immigration control. The narratives of participants ultimately highlight the discrepancy between political rhetoric concerning childrens rights and everyday practice.

28 Ramifications Ongoing Challenges: Inability to access necessary supportive systems inconsistently applied across provinces Barriers to employment and housing Limited opportunities to be self-sufficient/or to be children Conflict in school with peers and teachers Conflict with police (both warranted and unwarranted) Integration and culture Isolation Low-self-esteem

29 Ongoing Challenges As observed by both groups of participants, unaccompanied and separated children may resort to behaviours and activities that serve to confirm the identities conferred on them. HOWEVER, these youth also demonstrate a remarkable ability to overcome these challenges, meet their goals, and make positive connections. Their strength, motivation, and determination must be fostered throughout the process of resettlement and afterward.

30 Overcoming These Challenges Policy-focused Suggestions The conceptualization of unaccompanied and separated children as risky rationalizes the decision of host countries to respond to them suspiciously and deny them protection. The lack of coherent federal policies concerning the protection of unaccompanied and separated children represents a considerable challenge for immigration officials and front-line workers. Canadian policy must be developed that recognizes unaccompanied and separated childrens inherent right to protection.

31 Policy-focused Suggestions Deconstruct previously held notions, not simply of unaccompanied and separated children, but of the markers and risk categories that facilitate the classification of these children and youth as risky Challenge gender ideologies and stereotypes which construct male refugee youth as innately self-reliant and female refugee youth as innately dependent. Recognize the impact of biological age, ethnicity, citizenship status, separation from family, gender and culture, while not assigning reductionist meaning to them.

32 Policy-focused Suggestions Developing/improving programs and services that enable these youth to achieve their goals and maximize their potential Education Safety Support Given the relatively small numbers of unaccompanied and separated children that enter Canada, Canada is in a unique position to develop and implement a holistic system which recognizes the uniqueness of each youth, supports them in their endeavors, and facilitates the kind of life they, the youth themselves, expect to have here.

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