Fragmented journeys, social relations and age amongst Afghan young people on the move towards Europe. Positioning, negotiating and redefining.
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This thesis seeks to participate in the intellectual debate on journeys. It looks at journeys as a part of the migration process worth investigating given their potentially significant temporal and experiential nature. This has been approached through the case study of Afghan young people on the move towards Europe. Afghan young people are a group known for undertaking long and arduous overland and irregularised journeys. Furthermore, they represent the largest group of unaccompanied minor asylum-seekers arriving in Europe for almost a decade. The journey has been used as an analytical entry point to access the young people’s life-histories. It thus engages with the phenomenon of journeys as physical process, construct and narrative. Research on journeys has been largely neglected in migration and refugee studies. This thesis thus seeks to contribute with literature to address this gap. This is a multi-sited study based on narratives, ethnographic fieldwork and creative methods. Itconcerns research with three groups of young Afghans as defined by their legal status: undocumentedyoung Afghans in Greece, and international protection holders and rejected asylum-seekers inNorway. The study focuses on the young people’s positioning, negotiation and redefining. Throughan exploration of journey trajectories, social relations and the relation between age and vulnerability,their coping strategies and everyday experiences are explored. The young people’s journeys were non-linear and represent fragmented multi-(re)directional trajectories. They included long periods of immobility and a constant negotiation of mobility. Arrival in Norway did not signify an end to the journey, but rather reconfigured physical journeys into legal trajectories. Rejected asylum claims also revealed Norway as a temporary destination for some. The journey was embodied in various ways both during the migration and upon arrival in Norway. Furthermore, the thesis engages with the functions and qualitative nature of social relations in the context of the journey. These social relations primarily concern other Afghans as represented by fellow travellers and others encountered along the way. The young people both formed into groups and were placed in groups by smugglers. Persons travelling together often separated depending on divergent trajectories and access to resources and opportunities, but also sometimes reencountered each other at different stages. Social relations are important for the young people’s experiences, and represent resources in the migratory process and upon settlement that are actively drawn upon. Moreover, by choosing a case study where those migrating are young and thus configure between different regimes of immigration and child protection, age becomes of central social and experiential relevance in understanding such journeys and accompanying transitions. Afghan young people are confronted with a system where chronological age is crucial, and where its impact reveals itself differently across contexts. They also go through a maturity process instigated by conditions endured. The thesis also explores subsidiary themes such as conceptualisations of smugglers, migration skills, gender as a factor for vulnerability, the role of ethnicity and (prior) displacement, expressions of vulnerability, and religious observance in transience. Fieldwork was undertaken in Greece between October 2012-December 2015 and in Norway between February-September 2014.