Having emerged during the 1980s, Refugee and Forced Migration Studies has become a global field of interest that encompasses both rigorous academic research informing policy and practice, as well as action-research focused on advocating in favor of forced migrants’ needs and rights. In his contribution to the Oxford Handbook of Refugee and Forced Migration Studies, Jason Hart (2014) identifies three principal lines of inquiry in the Children and Forced Migration field: “mental health and social work,” “legal,” and “ethnographic.” The trauma-focused model emphasized in mental health approaches is concerned particularly with children’s exposure to events assumed to entail negative consequences for them. Legal perspectives consider legal systems and normative frameworks as they relate to displaced children, often with a direct view to addressing policy and frequently in collaboration with think tanks and lobbying groups (see chapters “Enduring Solutions in the Midst of “Crisis”: Refugee Children in Europe” and “A Systems Approach to Child Protection: Does Theory Reflect Reality in Protracted Refugee Situations?”).
Ethnographic approaches provide more grounded understandings by examining displacement as a context for children’s experience (see chapters ‘“Brothers Will Be Everywhere”: Youth Involvement in Martial Arts as the East Timorese Displaced Persons Struggle for Recognition in Their Community in Naibonat, East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia’ and “Unaccompanied Young Asylum-Seekers Stuck in Transit in Indonesia: Intimate Relationships and Resilience”). Ethnographic studies of forced migrant children have not always adequately taken into consideration the programmatic agendas of practitioners and policymakers. “However, their work can have considerable implications for the ways in which displaced children and their needs are conceptualized by those seeking to assist them” (Hart 2014, 38). The studies presented in this book draw from all three perspectives to varying extents, depending on the chapters, with a greater emphasis on legal and ethnographic approaches.
Statistics cannot reflect the trauma and suffering experienced by children and youth caught up in conflicts or affected by humanitarian emergencies. Nor can they capture the power of the hope that comes with the promise of an open door to durable solutions to forced migration and thus the possibility of a better future. In the face of chronic patterns of disruption and exclusion, ensuring the protection of children and youth in situations of forced migration requires a shift in global approaches. A profounder understanding of their particular needs and vulnerabilities, and also of the positive agentic roles they can play while striving to contribute to their own survival and that of their families and communities, can better support service delivery in the midst of acute crises and in protracted fragile and recovery contexts.
The chapters included in this edited book have sought to contribute to this effort by sharing findings that may inform forced migration programming so that it better responds to the age-differentiated priorities of displaced communities, thus promoting more sustainable durable solutions. Displaced girls and boys, keenly aware of their own needs and their ability to contribute to ameliorating their plight when provided with the right opportunities, emerge in this book as indispensable interlocutors. In the backdrop of current global events, this conversation has never been more important, nor have these issues ever been more urgent.