Social networks of unaccompanied minors refugees in Bolzano / South Tyrol
My research is an ethnographic project based on fieldwork carried out in a first arrival centre for unaccompanied minor refugees in Bolzano. Bolzano is located in South Tyrol, a small northern Italian region in the Alps area bordering Austria. South Tyrol sets an interesting context for research on mobility, borders and migration, as it used to be part of Austria and to this day has a majority German-speaking population, which is a minority on a national level. Italy as a whole has historically speaking been marked by a negative net migration rate, with the first positive net migration being registered in the mid- to late 1070s. The reality in Bolzano is therefore influence by immigration being a relatively new phenomenon, and the fact that the area is still in the process of learning how to cope with its troubled past and the congenial coexistence of several language groups, or ethnic groups as they are commonly referred to. For just over one year now I have been making participant observations at the first arrival centre in Bolzano, which hosts 12 male unaccompanied minor refugees for a period of up to 12 months, sometimes even more. My observations lead to the development of my main hypothesis, which is “The institutions dealing with unaccompanied minor refugees show structural and operational limitations which inhibit the recognition and further development of agency these minors have”. The minors assign different meanings to the notion of a successful migration project, which is intrinsically linked to a certain understanding of Teilhabe. There has been a switch throughout the past few years, where in past most of the young refugees were interested in economic independence as soon as possible, and therefore longed for a timely integration into the labour market. Whether this is a mandate by the community of origin or an intrinsic motivation is secondary to the fact that this came accompanied by a general disinterest in schooling and formal education. It felt as if they were not interested in living “youthhood” and gaining access to participation in peer groups, education and leisure activities thought for young people, but they wanted to gain “adult participation”. Participation in this understanding is closely linked to a monetary independence and therefore a job, an apartment, and a general detachment from the care services for minors. Currently the situation is different, and more minors are interested in pursuing education, enrolling to sports and other activities typically though for minors and young adults. To those young people, Teilhabe means living the life of a typical teenager from Bolzano. This includes access to education facilities and leisure activities as well as fashion and status symbols. Speaking about social participation, I have found it striking to observe the social networks these boys make part of. Their social contacts are strongly influenced by the institutionalised nature of their accommodation. Nearly everyone they meet on a daily basis is somehow connected to the social service providers. The staff of the first arrival centre, their language teachers and a series of different volunteers are the people they most regularly encounter. The contact points to meet people outside of this centripetal network are few, especially during the first period after arrival. Additions to the care network are often people from the same region of origin that the boys have encountered during their flight or at some point after the arrival. Having external reference points with a share origin appears to be especially predominant in minors from Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Indian Punjab.