Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Alone in a Strange Land: Unaccompanied Minors and Issues of Protection

Academic journal article Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal

Alone in a Strange Land: Unaccompanied Minors and Issues of Protection

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT/RESUME

Unaccompanied minors are young refugees under the age of eighteen who have been separated from their parents and who arrive in Canada unaccompanied by a legal guardian. In Quebec, between 200 and 300 unaccompanied minors arrive every year. While several studies have documented obstacles to integration for adult refugees, relatively little is known about the life situations of unaccompanied minors. The following paper looks more closely at this group: the history of unaccompanied minors in general, their profile and migratory trajectories, and some of the special intervention issues relating to them. The analysis is based on individual and group interviews with eighteen social practitioners working with unaccompanied minors in Montreal. The study reveals the interface between factors of protection and of risk for this population, particularly in relation to placement and school networks, and concludes that these youth should not only be considered as victims of a world gone wrong, but also as actors in their o wn histories.

Les mineurs non accompagnes sont des jeunes refugies de moins de 18 ans. Ils sont separes de leurs parents et arrivent au Canada non accompagnes d'un tuteur legal. Entre 200 et 300 mineurs non accompagnes arrivent au Quebec chaque annee. Bien que les difficultes reliecs a la migration des refugies ont souvent etudiees en lien avec Ia population adulte, Ia realite des mineurs non accompagnes demeure relativement peu connue. Le present article presente un portrait de ce groupe: I'historique du phenomene des mineurs non accompagnes leurs profils et trajectoires migratoires et certains enjeux d'intervention qui leur sont specifiques. L'analyse repose sur des entrevues individuelles et de groupe, avec dix huit intervenants sociaux qui oeuvrent aupres des mineurs non accompagnes a Montreal. L'etude revele I'interface entre des facteurs de protection et de risque, notamment en ce qui concerne les resequx de placement et de I'ecole, et conclut que cesjeunes ne devraient pas etre consideres seulement comme des victime s, mais aussi comme des acteurs dans leurs propres histoires.

Tarek is a young man originally from Ethiopia. Wanting to protect him from threats directed against the family, his parents sent him to the United States where he stayed with friends of the family who had recently immigrated to New York. During this period, he had a tourist visa and was authorised to stay in the country for a limited time only. During his stay, he learned that his father and older brother had been imprisoned and that his mother had been reported missing. Knowing that he could not return to Ethiopia, Tarek remained in the United States until his tourist visa expired. Finding himself in a status of illegality, and not wanting to create trouble for the family which had taken him in (who were themselves living in a situation of poverty), he boarded a bus one day and arrived at the Canadian border where he claimed political asylum. Tarek was fifteen at the time of his arrival in Montreal.

Tarek is an unaccompanied minor; that is, a young refugee under the age of eighteen who has been separated from his parents and who arrived in Canada unaccompanied by a legal guardian (UNHRC, 1994). Of the close to eighteen million refugees in the world today between two and five percent are estimated to be unaccompanied minors, a figure which represents between 360,000 and 900,000 youth (OMS, 1997; UNHCR, 1994). In Quebec alone, between 200 and 300 unaccompanied minors pass through the offices of the Services d'aide aux refugids et aux immigrants de Montreal Metropolitain (SARIMM) every year. SARIMM is a specialized program for refugees which is mandated for the protection of unaccompanied minors and which is part of the CLSC Cote-des-Neiges, a health and social services institution in Montreal (CLSC Cote-des-Neiges, 1999, 2000). Like refugees in general, these youth are without a homeland, 'propulsed' into the world by war, violence and political instability (Adelman, 1991). …

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