Migrants’ journeys can be non-linear and directed towards abstract destinations, with endings better marked by periods of integration rather than arrival in any particular place. This study explores how male unaccompanied migrant children’s interactions with child protection staff in Greece shape their future trajectories as migrants.
The transcripts of in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 26 youth who were placed in accommodation facilities for unaccompanied minors in Greece were qualitatively analyzed using inductive coding. Attention was paid to how youths’ experiences with bureaucratic actors shaped their perceptions of Greece, and how those perceptions informed their future decisions as young adults.
When youth arrived in Greece, they were unprepared to interpret their new institutional environments. Their understanding of their environments was shaped largely by their interactions with individual non-governmental organization (NGO) staff members. Youth who believed that NGO staff were supportive and invested in their futures typically had plans to stay Greece. Youth who perceived staff to be unsupportive typically had intentions to leave Greece, even if it meant giving up their rights as asylees to be irregular migrants in another country.
Investment by NGO staff in unaccompanied children’s futures as young adults has important implications for the decisions youth make and their trajectories as migrants. When youth believe staff are indifferent to their best interests, they often disengage and continue their journey to another country, where they will once again be irregular migrants.