What are the challenges that unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people face and how can youth workers in Northern Ireland support them?

Around the world 68.5 million people have been displaced from their homes, amongst them are young people who have been separated from their immediate families. This small group of young people is referred to as ‘separated or unaccompanied’ In 2017 the United Kingdom saw 2,399 applications for asylum from unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people: Northern Ireland averaged around 13 referrals each year.

This study aims to detail the processes that surround unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people entering Northern Ireland, identify the challenges they face, make recommendations for youth workers and explore the theological understanding for welcoming them.

The research uses interviews and questionnaires to identify these challenges and suggests recommendations for youth workers who may engage with unaccompanied asylum seekers in the future.

The study outlines and reviews existing literature focusing on three areas: the initial processes for unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people face, everyday challenges and leaving care over 18.

The findings indicated that unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people face challenges around the lengthy asylum process, which is not child-friendly also issues with language and subsequent integration into local society. Additionally, unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people can suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of trauma in their country of origin, on their journey to Northern Ireland or possibly in the hands of traffickers. The study identified the vital role Christians play in supporting individuals taken from verses relating to welcoming the stranger and showing hospitality to those in need. The study also briefly touches on future challenges and how Brexit could potentially affect unaccompanied asylum-seeking young people.

Recommendations suggested that youth workers should increase their awareness of the young people’s culture and of the asylum process along with accompanying them in everyday tasks. The research also identified the importance of knowing the community and how to access important resources such as translators.

Cathryn Nesbitt

Cathryn studied with CYM Ireland for 3 years achieving a BA (Hons) in Youth and Community Work and Practical Theology