Forced migrant children and youth


Jessica Ball, MPH, Ph.D.
Debra Torok, Ph.D. (Cand.)
Rashin Lamouchi, B.A.
Chris Tse, M.S.W.
Pattinee Suanprasert
Spring Song
Saw Poe Khwer Lay (Nay Tha)
M. Htang Dim (Angela)

Suwannimit Foundation
Malaysia Social Research Institute
Rohingya Women’s Development Network in Malaysia

Project background

There is little academic or professional guidance for evidence-informed decision-making about forced migrant youth while they are displaced and in transit.

Children and youth under 18 years old who are accompanied by adult family members are essentially regarded as baggage carried by their parents. They are rarely involved in decision-making about whether to return to their home country, assimilate into the country of temporary residence, or seek asylum with the possibility of resettlement in a new country. There is little understanding of the main factors that affect the wellness of unaccompanied minors or how they experience their migration journey.

Youth advocates have been calling for research methods that will yield a better understanding of the experiences, views, and goals of young forced migrants. Organizations that serve migrants are seeking solutions to the high rates of trauma and ongoing stress among forced migrant youth. These include suicide, psychological trauma, sexual and physical assault, and other tragic outcomes. There is a need to develop evidence-informed decision-making about feasible, culturally relevant service delivery, and appropriate means to evalute psychosocial interventions designed for this under serviced population.

Project goals

This project area is generating new knowledge about forced migrant youths’ experiences of migration and life in transit, as well as their future aspirations. It is demonstrating the potential of a new approach to research and intervention, called the Peer Mediated Story Board Narrative Method. Briefly, youth are given materials to create a poster board expressing how migration has impacted their sense of belonging, identity, and views about their future. With a small group of other migrant youth, they share their stories using the visual images on their poster board as a starting point. With the help of a facilitator, the peers comment and ask questions about each story-teller’s narrative. Groups typically meet four or five times. Youth may add to their story board or narrative as their willingness to self-disclose increases. This method reveals what forced migrant youth experience and what they want to know about migration experiences from other youth in transit. Youth have reported that participation in the process has increased their empathy for other migrant youth and, in some groups, has led to sustained psychosocial support among peer group members long after the project is over.
forced migrants logo
The project was completed in 2019 in Malaysia with forced migrant youth from the Southwest Asia and North Africa, and East Africa, and Rohingya youth from Myanmar. During the pandemic, the project was carried out through an online collaboration between the Canada-based team and the Thailand-based team.

The online approach offered many advantages. Without a team of ‘expert’ methodologists from a foreign country, local practitioners were able to take ownership of the method, build their capacity for effective implementation, and provide cascade training (Training or Trainers) with the staff of other migrant-serving organizations.

This project area is also affording graduate students from Canada and Thailand a rare opportunity to engage cross-culturally in one of the most challenging social, political, and psychological ecologies for youth development in the world today – one that is becoming increasingly challenging as the rate of forced migration continues rise.

Project funders

  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Insight Development Grant
  • Social Sciences and Humanities Research Councill of Canada, Partner Engage, COVID-19 Special Project Initiative
  • University of Victoria


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