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Institute of Education

Unaccompanied Minor Refugees in Institutional Care: Opportunities and Challenges

In recent years, an increasing number of unaccompanied minor refugees has been received in Switzerland, with the result that questions regarding their placement and care and the related challenges and opportunities thereof have gained in importance. However, there are hardly any reliable, empirically founded research findings available for the placement and care of unaccompanied minor refugees and the inherent factors of coercion in this field – internationally as well as for Switzerland.
     Against this background, the project analyses the institutional accommodation of and care for unaccompanied minor refugees in regard to current practices as well as to historical perspectives. The focus lies on a) guidelines referring to asylum law, asylum policy, and asylum bureaucracy, b) ethnical and cultural experiences of foreignness, and c) concepts of child-appropriate growing-up and need for help, which can be connected to aspects of welfare and coercion.
     In line with the part of the study that looks at current developments, placement and care are analysed ethnographically, i.e. through observations of and interviews with the persons concerned (professionals, foster parents, young refugees), whereby different forms of care (MNA-centres, facilities for adults, foster families) are taken into consideration. After several years, the involved actors are to be contacted again to accompany them in the then relevant contexts and to interview them once again. From a historical perspective, the project will focus on documents of selected groups of unaccompanied minor refugees that have fled to Switzerland from 1947 to 1981.
     Based on this study, it should be determined in a first stage how the individual care contexts are perceived and assessed by the different actors. In addition, the question of how the involved actors organise the daily routines in regard to care is addressed. Furthermore, the challenges are analysed that have to be overcome by the involved actors. The longitudinal design of the study facilitates to discern changes in regard to age, development, and context. Finally, through the incorporation of different historical contexts, the question of what long-term developments can be perceived in the field is clarified. In doing so, questions regarding continuity and breaks in regard to institutional care of unaccompanied minor refugees are examined. In this manner, substantiated insights should be provided for the scientific discussion. Suggestions for further development should be given to specialised professional practices and to policy makers. The research project is supported financially by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) within the framework of the National Research Programme (NRP) 76.

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