In 2016 alone, 63 300 unaccompanied minor asylum seekers were registered in the EU, a number five times higher than the annual average during 2008-2013, according to the European Statistical Office (2017). So in 2017, Dr. Annamaria Neag (with the supervision of Dr. Richard Berger) set out to understand how these young people are coping in their new host countries. More specifically, in this project she is looking at how unaccompanied minor refugees are using digital technology, media and social media after receiving asylum in their host country.
The first stop of this research project was in an accommodation centre in the north of the Netherlands: “Facebook! WhatsApp!” – shouted one of the Eritrean teenagers. “No, Viber!” – contradicted his friend. The prompt for this, was the question: what is your favourite app?
The first focus groups were run in the mentors’ office, while in the kitchen some other boys were listening to Eritrean music. From one of the rooms, one could also hear Arabic music playing. During the two weeks of the field work in the Netherlands, music was the one constant. Most of the time YouTube was on autoplay, and – since the research also involved participant observation – Dr. Neag also watched some of the videos together with the teenagers.
“What is it about?”– she would ask them. The girls would start laughing: “Ah it’s too complicated.” “Is it about love?”. “Yes!”- they’d reply and laugh even harder.
In the two weeks spent in the Netherlands, Dr. Neag interviewed 16 unaccompanied refugee children. In that time, she says that she was lucky enough to be invited into their homes. Upon entering Dr. Neag was regularly offered tea, or in one house, a traditional Eritrean cake called himbasha. Despite their struggles and constant waiting for their families to arrive from a different country, these teenagers were trying their best to live a fairly normal life.
Another humbling experience was to observe the work of the kids’ mentors. The mentors are employed by a Dutch non-governmental organisation, and have a very important role: to help young refugees adapt to their new country, help them understand the way Dutch society functions and to support them in their everyday life. From applying for a new bus card for the teenagers to asking them about school work, the mentors are basically a new family to them. Some of the mentors Dr. Neag met, have themselves arrived as refugees to the Netherlands. Needless to say, their work is equally demanding and fulfilling.
The final aim of this project is to understand unaccompanied minor refugees’ lived media experiences in order to create media literacy educational materials for them. One can only hope that this academic work will be as beneficial as the work done by these mentors.
I’m very grateful to the non-governmental organisations Nidos and Vitree for their support during this field work. –Dr Annamaria Neag, Project Researcher
photo credits: Nidos, RedDishKitchen