The Integration green paper places much emphasis on integrating young people in its proposals especially in relation to education. Dr Rachel Humphris and Dr Nando Sigona consider the factors that may determine success and failure of integration policy for this diverse cohort.
What does integration mean for a young migrant in Britain today? To what extent do young people’s aspirations meet the expectations of the British government? The answer to these questions is less straightforward that it may seem. Let’s take for example young unaccompanied minors. While resilience and capacity to adapt to a new society and build social connections may seem obvious candidates of a successful integration, it also happens that these very criteria are used by the Home Office to argue in asylum appeal hearings for the forced removal of unaccompanied asylum seeking minors to places like Afghanistan. The argument goes a bit like this: this young person has shown a great capacity of adaptation during his/her stay in Britain, and therefore can be expected to successfully reintegrate into the Afghani society if returned to Kabul, even if Kabul is not where they came from.
Leaving aside these questions for now, research shows that the successful integration of young people in the UK may depend upon a range of factors, including their age, gender, whether they migrate alone or accompanied, and the circumstances surrounding their movement.
However, our research shows that a primary, if not the most important, factor shaping the integration of young people in the UK is the security of their migration status, and the process through which this was achieved. For example, young people may not have a legal residency status (undocumented) or have failed in their asylum claim (either in a family group or as the primary claimant if migrating alone). Migration status will dramatically impede their ability to integrate into UK society until their legal status claim is resolved for practical reasons such as being unable to access resources to fund further or higher education and issues surrounding mental health and wellbeing. Children who have been detained or are in fear of being detained will also suffer impediments to integration. In our study on transitions to adulthood of formed unaccompanied migrant children (Becoming Adult), we found out that a protracted, delayed, tortuous pathway to secure status, even if this is ultimately achieved, can have long term negative impacts on young people’s wellbeing and their capacity to integrate into society.
In light of this, emphasis should be placed on securing young people’s legal status earlier rather than later and on ensuring the process is ‘best interests’ proofed before. All public services should adhere to the legal binding principle that migrant children are children first and make decisions in accordance with a child’s ‘best interests’ according to the UN Convention for the Right of the Child.
To promote young people’s integration education and involvement in school and learning environments play central roles. Effort should be placed on providing additional support for young people to learn English as quickly as possible. Routes to further and higher education should be made available to them. Ensuring young people’s right to dream about meaningful and successful future should be a priority in state policy. School’s may not only be key to children and young people’s integration but can also act as a key contact for a new migrant family to become acquainted with the administrative systems in the UK and a place where English language can be practiced in a supportive environment.
In addition to schools, youth clubs and groups may provide important spaces for young people to meet and engage in activities that are crucial to ensure they are positively engaged in their local communities. This is reflected in the government green paper which acknowledges that ‘youth social action is a valuable bridging activity through which young people play an important role in helping to establish the norms of cooperation and reciprocity in their communities and to make positive use of their skills, knowledge and capabilities’ (page 31).
Chase, E. and Sigona, N. (2017) ‘Forced returns and protracted displacement’, Becoming Adult Research Brief no. 7, London: UCL
Sigona, N., Chase, E., Humphris, R. (2017) ‘Understanding causes and consequences of going ‘missing’, Becoming Adult Brief no. 6, London: UCL
Sigona, N., Chase, E., Humphris, R. (2017) ‘Protecting the ‘best interests’ of the child in transition to adulthood’, Becoming Adult Research Brief no. 3, London: UCL
Sigona, N and Hughes, V. (2012) No way out, no way in, Oxford: COMPAS
Bloch, A, Sigona, N and Zetter, R (2014) Sans Papiers, Pluto Press