Children of Refugees in Europe: Aspirations, Social and Economic Lives, Identity and Transnational Linkages

What are the life trajectories of children of refugees born in Europe in terms of cultural and social identity and what are their educational and employment experiences?

Project Summary

These last decades, Europe has seen the population of migrant minorities augmenting considerably and producing great ethnical, cultural and religious diversity. The research will be carried out in three countries – Switzerland, France and the United Kingdom – and involve European born adult children of refugees from Vietnam, Sri Lanka and Turkey. Refugees represent today a major challenge for international, national and local communities in terms of inclusion and social cohesion. While previous research has already explored all aspects of refugees’ lives in Europe, little is known about the children of refugees. The present project will explore the lives of the children of refugees living in Europe from diverse economic, social, cultural and religious backgrounds. It will look at their educational and employment experiences, their relations to other ethnic minorities, their social and ethnic linkages as well as their perception of identity and home and answer the following questions :

  • What have been and are the educational and employment experiences?
  • How do the educational and employment experiences of the adult children of refugees compare with their parents and their other ethnic minorities in the country of residence?
  • What are the social, cultural, economic and political transnational linkages of children born to refugees in Europe?

A mixed-methods approach using interdisciplinary tools from sociology, anthropology, social geography, political science and social policy will be used. Data will be collected through in-depth interviews and an online survey. An analysis of existing data and policy outputs will be carried out to provide benchmarks for comparisons with ethnic minorities more generally and to enable a greater understanding of national and local contexts. The research aims at contributing to a better understanding of the effects of assimilation, integration and social cohesion which will be greatly useful to actors in the field of migrant policies.

Academic Output

Working Paper

This article focuses on intergenerational narratives of exile and persecution as well as the narrative gaps and the silences between generations from the perspectives of the second generation from refugee backgrounds. The article draws on data from interviews with United Kingdom-born adults with parents who had been refugees from Vietnam and Sri Lanka (Tamils) and Kurds from Turkey. While some parents shared pre-migration, flight and post-migration stories, others chose not to talk about the past. There were clear differences between the three heritage groups that related to the displacement contexts and to responses to loss and trauma. Both the stories told and the gaps and silences were made sense of and filtered, by the second generation, through the lens of their lives in the United Kingdom. The second generation developed their own narratives of their parents’ pasts, which were embedded in their everyday lives, but also framed around their distinctive heritages.

Working Paper

This article explores the various types of racism and racialization comparing the experiences of descendants of Kurdish, Tamil, and Vietnamese refugees in Switzerland. Drawing on qualitative data from 45 interviews, the article shows that children of refugees experience several forms of racialization, the impact of which varies. The article shows that children of refugees tend to deny or relativize the interpersonal racism they experience daily, whilst they name and reject forms of racialization that have an effect on their socio-economic mobility as discrimination and racism. The paper argues that experiences of racialization explain why some adult children of refugees do not feel they ‘fit in’ despite their upwards socio-economic mobility.

Working Paper

This paper explores transnational activities among the UK born second generation from three refugee backgrounds: Tamils from Sri Lanka, Kurds from Turkey and Vietnamese. Drawing on qualitative interview data from 45 interviews, the paper explores the views and experiences of the second generation but also their reflections and interpretations of their parent’s histories and transnational activities. The paper takes a comparative and inter-generational approach. It compares transnationalism among second generation with that of the refugee generation and highlights generational differences. The intersections of refugee histories with transnationalism are brought to the forefront of the analysis and in so doing demonstrates the significance of refugee backgrounds on transnational practices.

Working Paper

This introduction to the special issue provides a critical state-of-the-art of the literature on second-generation migrants which has hitherto subsumed the case of the children of refugees. It highlights the theoretical and methodological orientations taken by the literature and examines the main findings on the second generation’s social, educational, economic, cultural and inter-generational lives, before turning to the few findings available on conditions and performances of children of refugees. The editorial concludes by suggesting gaps in our knowledge and areas for future research.

Working Paper

Europe is super-diverse (Vertovec 2007) and part of this diversity can be attributed to the diversity of refugee arrivals. Since the late 1960s, refugees arriving in Europe have come from different regions, ethnic groups, religious backgrounds and political affiliations and have varied pre-migration experiences (Kushner and Knox 1999). While early cohorts of refugees had been mainly white, European and Christian new refugee arrivals were from visible minorities and with different religious affiliations (Akoka 2011). The number of refugees and asylum-seekers has also increased, reaching around 20 million at the end of 2014; thus, the refugee population and its descendants represent a sizeable proportion of Europe’s minority- ethnic population (UNHCR 2015). The reasons for exile also became more diverse. Increasingly refugees arriving in Europe were fleeing persecution not only on the basis of political opinion but also on the basis of other 1951 Geneva Convention criteria, namely persecution related to race, religion, nationality or membership of a social group. This is significant because the type of persecution can influence the relationship of a refugee to their country of origin, their aspirations for return and, in consequence, levels of investment and permanency (imagined or real) in the refugee receiving country as well as economic, social, cultural and political transnational linkages (Al-Ali and Koser 2002; Bloch 2008; Dahinden 2012).

Research Team

Milena Chimienti

University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland

Laurence Ossipow
University of Applied Sciences Western Switzerland

Alice Bloch
Principal Member
University of Manchester

Catherine Withol De Wenden
Principal Member
Director of research at CNRS