Living Archives: Storytelling, Unaccompanied Minors and Social Justice

Hamedullah The Road Home Learning Lab Workshop

Digital launch of ‘Big Journeys Untold Stories’ website and archive.

Back in January 2014, Counterpoints Arts was awarded a grant from Creativeworks London to collaborate with filmmaker, Sue Clayton, on the development of a digital archive housing film footage shot by Sue over a 12-year period. Footage capturing the experiences of separated youth living in the UK.

To date there is no specialized archive on this subject in the UK and Big Journeys Untold Stories aspires to tell a more rounded story through photos, films and prose. Sue’s footage expands the notion of the ‘journey’ by telling stories of ‘Arrival’ and ‘Living in the UK’, deliberately broadening the narrative arc to highlight what it means to spend ones formative years in the UK. Such as, putting down roots, forming friendships, missing family yet dreaming of a future in a new ‘home’ with diverse, wonderfully (sometimes whacky) energetic ambitions. As any young person might predictably aspire?

Sue puts it this way on the Big Journeys site:

As minors, separated youth living in the UK are protected by law. But when they turn 18, unless they can win a difficult legal appeal, they can be picked up any night, detained and deported back to countries that fill them with fear. What’s it like being these young people? Is Britain really home to them? Can they ever find a safe future? Is it right that our government welcomes them, and then treats them like criminals because they turn 18?


Arrival Story 1

Visit Big Journeys

Wider context:

‘Separated youth’, ‘unaccompanied minors’, ‘unaccompanied alien children’, ‘unaccompanied migrant children’ – frequently used, often interchangeable terms describing young migrants travelling alone under the age of 18.  It’s a growing global phenomenon writes Amanda Levinson for the Migration Policy Institute, since  ‘wherever global migration is flowing, children are caught up in the current. And like all migrants, the way unaccompanied minors are received, processed, held, returned, or integrated depends on the country in which they arrive’ (‘Unaccompanied Immigrant Children: A Growing Phenomenon with Few Easy Solutions’ – 2011).

Whether to the U.S., Australia or Europe, unaccompanied minors are most definitely on the move for many different reasons. But in the U.S. attitudes about immigration reform have yet again hardened, so much so that a recent open letter to President Obama on 2 July calls for an immediate ‘end to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals’ (DACA). (DACA is a memo signed by Obama in 2012, calling for deferred action for certain undocumented young people who came to the U.S. as children and have pursued education or military service). DACA is itself a strategic compromise, given there is no direct path from deferred action to lawful permanent residence or to citizenship and both can be revoked at any time.

Penned by Republican Congressman Darrell Issa (who only 9 months ago supported a bill to give undocumented migrants provisional legal status) and signed by 34 Republicans, this letter indicates that the tide has turned for unaccompanied minors – now perceived to foment a pernicious ‘recent surge’ and undeserving of even partial ‘deferred action’.

Jude Webber writing for the Financial Times  (5 July) describes the level of sheer hazard for minors travelling north from Guatamala through Mexico across to the U.S., being dumped by traffickers or navigating drug cartels who see children as yet another ‘product to peddle’.  Journeys include ‘[c]landestine border crossings…involving searing heat and a heart-thumping swim across the Rio Grande (aptly called the Rio Bravo – the tough river – in Mexico) as helicopters patrol overhead’.

By any reckoning journeys undertaken by unaccompanied minors across the globe, whether to the U.S. or the UK, are heart-thumping. But what happens in the years following arrival? More urgently what happens when these young people reach 18 and are no longer protected as children, in this instance, under UK law?


Learning Lab: Big Journeys Logos