Rethinking autonomy without acronyms: reflections from the local training

Friday 5 April 2024

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The care of minor persons who have arrived alone in third countries represents one of the most complex and urgent challenges facing contemporary societies. Between June and November last year, CESIE, as part of CIVILHOOD, launched two online courses dedicated to reception professionals and volunteers, with the aim of exploring the concept of autonomy in this particular context. With a dynamic approach, the topic was approached without acronyms, in order to stimulate new reflections on the paths of integration of minor persons arrived alone in Italy and improve the tools for managing diversity in multicultural contexts.

A new, hard-to-place anthropological type of migrants is determined by the mutability of migratory phenomenologies and origins, the discrepancy between the reality of the facts and the prevailing perceptions of transnational mobility, and, most importantly, the historical and generational characteristics of this group of migrants (teen migration).

Regarding this specific migrant figure of the present, a common belief among many practitioners and experts in the field of unaccompanied minors is that these boys and girls are, in many ways, unidentifiable and “out of scale” in relation to the categories of “adolescent,” “minor/adult,” “adulthood” and “autonomy” that guide our forms of supporting them. Instead, these young people’s stories and ways of being, call for new forms of thinkability, knowing, and intervention that are less codified and more open to changes for the various actors involved.

Their enigmatic nature and the disorientation that is entailed in many of the relationships to which they are involved in the “new” society in which they are present does not depend only on ‘their’ indeterminacy and mutability, but on the encounter with ‘us’, with our social, cultural and welfare parameters, with  our representations of ‘normality’, of the individual and of society.

This disruptive aspect affects the reception system workers and more generally questions our overall approach to these very young migrants.“Our” side questions and interrogates our categorical rigidities, our normative, impositional and reductionist thinking.

The processes for supporting minors, especially on the side of public institutions and the reception system , are frequently full of parameters, grades, linear visions of growth, requests for clarity, planning, and “strategic” views. This is true even when dealing with people who have potentially experienced trauma and breakdowns, that can signify them being distrustful of adults, or have an unclear and unconsidered idea of the future.

This regularization and ‘disciplining’ of the minor is not only “strange” to them in the form that it takes and the substance that it has, but it is also applied in a contradictory and in many ways perverse manner.

This is particularly visible in relation to the concept of “autonomy”: formally defined, imposed and measured on the pillars of residence and work, and modelled on logics and demands that are senselessly different and pretentious from those that would be placed on a native peer or on our own children.

From an external perspective, “autonomy” is associated with living in a residential setting “on one’s own” and having a job contract. However, from a more procedural and personal perspective, short-circuits are frequently created within the same settings and during the same minor-supporting actions, where autonomy is simultaneously sought after, inhibited, and restrained.

The ways of the reception system push these young people, also with their more or less unconscious complicity, into a condition of “adolescent” that they are particularly unprepared to face, opening “mental games perhaps never played in the countries of origin and in the family structures of departure”.

Protection, which is frequently associated with control and regression, can in fact encourage the emergence of parasitic and claimant dynamics, “canceling” that autonomy that had previously fully unfolded in the minors’ life, damaging their ability to choose and decide for their own life.

It can therefore happen that the minor, rather than being able to engage in a real path of self-determination, remains trapped in an internal oscillation and ambivalence between passive adaptation, rebellion, impatience and bewilderment.

These topics have been explored throughout the CIVILHOOD project, leading to the development of a series of educational materials and resources to support educators, reception system operators, volunteers, and other stakeholders in their work with unaccompanied minors.

Read about the project resources here! For more information contact Georgia Chondrou:

About the project

CIVILHOOD – Enhancing unaccompanied minors transition to early adulthood through civic education and labour market integration is a project funded by the AMIF, DG Home Affairs – Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund program of the European Uninon.


For further information

Read more about the project.

Contact Georgia Chondrou:

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