Sense of Home and Belonging in Forced Migration: A Case of Farsi-Speaking Youth in Malaysia

Date

2022-09-02

Authors

Lamouchi, Rashin

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Abstract

This qualitative study sought insights into forced migrant youths’ sense of belonging. The study was part of the Youth Migration Project, an ongoing investigation of how young forced migrants construct their identities, sense of belonging, and future aspirations while perched on the edge of mainstream society – without normative entitlements or a voice in decision-making about their futures. Through purposive and snowball recruitment methods, the project gathered narratives of 52 forced migrant youth aged 11 to 17 who were born in conflict areas of Asia and Africa, primarily in Myanmar, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Iran, and Somalia. In the present study, I focused on the experiences of eight forced migrant female participants living in prolonged displacement in Malaysia. My guiding research question was: How do the processes and experiences of forced migration shape migrant youths’ sense of belonging? Through a mixed-method approach, including a novel, arts-based peer-mediated storyboard narrative method, now known as Storyboard Peers, and follow-up interviews, youth shared their migration narratives, the challenges they faced while living in Malaysia, and their expectations and aspirations for their futures. The theme of safety figured prominently in the girls’ accounts and I constructed the themes of physical safety and social safety to represent the data the girls contributed. The girls’ sense of belonging and feeling at home had a direct relationship with feeling safe, valued, and loved. I also found that their physical and social environments informed their sense of belonging. Sense of belonging is neither a static nor a fixed concept; rather it is a flexible, everchanging, and reconstructed with ongoing, everyday experiences, reflections on the past, and anticipations of what the future could hold. The girls’ accounts conveyed that feelings of “belongingness” and “at home” shifted from tangible places and familiar faces to abstract concepts such as love, peace, and family. Overall, feeling safe and “at home” were rooted in basic needs being met. My findings lead me to call for governments and nongovernmental organizations to significantly reduce the length of time that youth spend in transit, promote safety, combat discrimination, fulfill basic needs, and ensure access to education and healthcare.

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Keywords

forced migrant youth, sense of self, social safety, physical safety, home, belonging, prolonged displacement, life in transit

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