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Refugees’ stories highlight the violence of borders


A new study from Malmö University explores the experiences of unaccompanied minors and how borders shape their lives.

Debates surrounding refugees construe unaccompanied minors in conflicting ways — as vulnerable children, untrustworthy imposters, or as heroes. Researcher and PhD candidate Pouran Djampour has been speaking to individuals who migrated to Sweden as unaccompanied minors to learn about their journeys and experiences in the asylum system. The findings are presented in her thesis, Borders crossing bodies: the stories of eight youth with experience of migrating.

“The main aim behind the study has been to offer a different story than the often very simplistic tropes of refugee children that are presented in media and political debates. By showing the mundanity as well as the complexity of these people’s lives, I want to move away from the single-story narrative,” says Djampour.

Who gets to love?

In the research, Djampour emphasises borders as something that happens to you, rather than something geographical and fixed.

“I wanted to shift the focus to borders crossing bodies, rather than the other way around, so that the violence of borders could become the focal point of the study. Understanding borders as an artificial system allows us to place responsibility on states and governments, instead of on individual migrants. Borders are not permanent — they shift and change shape all the time. They are also not always physical; social borders can exist between people, for instance when you are denied the opportunity to be with the person you love.”

Love is an important part of Djampour’s study and a full chapter is dedicated to stories of intimacy. In this section, Djampour discusses the types of love that are idealised in society and how love is connected to privilege.

“We often don’t talk about things like intimacy when it comes to refugees. The people I spoke to didn’t just talk about romantic love, they talked about love for themselves, for family, and for a wider community. However, when it comes to the consumption of love through dating apps, for example, it’s important to remember who is allowed the privilege of being able to consume conveyer-belt love. Some get to choose and enjoy love while many of those I spoke to have to verify and prove their love; reunification with the person they love is in the hands of the state,” she says.

Hope as resistance

According to Djampour, the most important aspect of the research deals with resistance.

The study participants shared stories of resisting borders, migration authorities and everyday prejudices, and hoping for a better future despite the odds.

“The strength in hope is one of the forces that transcends borders. As an asylum seeker you are often restricted. You’re not supposed to move, you’re supposed to be obedient and fearful — but when you hope and dream about a future, you’re prolonging the body beyond these barriers of hinderance.”

Text: Maya Acharya

Last updated by Maya Acharya