5. Family separation, social networks and relational wellbeing of refugees

Convenors: Marja Tiilikainen, Migration Institute of Finland; Mervi Kaukko, Faculty of Education and Culture, Tampere University; Fath E Mubeen, Migration Institute of Finland and Tampere University

Contact: marja.tiilikainen (at) migrationinstitute.fi

Session 5.1: Thursday 2.12.2021 at 13.00-15.00

Session 5.2: Thursday 2.12.2021 at 17.00-18.30

Following the so-called “refugee crisis” in Europe in 2015, European countries have introduced tightened asylum and family reunification policies. The new policies include income requirements – even for unaccompanied minors – making family reunion in many cases close to impossible. Consequently, family separation has become a long-lasting reality for many refugees. Those who are separated from their families for unknown periods of time need to rethink their future plans, reorganise their personal, social, and economic lives, and find new ways to maintain relationships that sustain them.

Research on transnational families has shown how refugees and migrants dynamically reproduce and navigate kin-based ties across borders, in order to maintain collective welfare and unity of family members. At the same time, as refugees settle in their new countries, they also create new social relationships. The combination of these old and new social ties can contribute to the relational wellbeing of refugees.

In this workshop, our aim is to explore the networks and relationships that refugees are embedded in and rely on locally and transnationally.

  • How do transnational family members support the wellbeing and settlement of forced migrants?

  • What kinds of networks (e.g. religious, ethnic, civil society) and meaningful relationships do refugees develop in the countries of settlement, in the absence of their immediate family members?

  • What kinds of new family-like communities and relationships emerge?

We welcome refugee-related presentations drawing on any disciplinary viewpoints and methodological approaches. In particular, we encourage researchers working with arts-based methodologies to submit their abstracts. The workshop is organized by two research projects: Family Separation, Migration Status and Everyday Security: Experiences and Strategies of Vulnerable Migrants (Academy of Finland 2018-2021) and Relational Wellbeing in the Lives of Young Refugees in Finland, Norway and Scotland (NordForsk 2020-2024)

Back to the workshops

Presentation order and abstracts:
ESSION 5.1 Thursday 2.12.2021 at 13.00-15.00

  1. The Gulen movement in diaspora after 2016: A case study of Finland
    Emine Turkoglu: Helsinki University

This paper presents the research plan for a doctoral study on the Gulen (Hizmet) movement, which transformed itself into a remarkable community by education and dialogue activities in a short period of time in more than 100 countries, in diaspora after 2016 in a case study of Finland. The proposed study will investigate the social, historical development and basic teachings of the movement in order to be a basis for the study, and then the main part of study will include the motivations, loyalties and ongoing relations with the movement of its members in Finland as well as the reflections of these relations on the integration processes; finally, the role of women in the movement in the pre/post-diaspora also in Finnish society and what is the meaning of these changes for the women adherents in Finland by using the social movement framework. There is reason to believe that utilizing Social movement theory in the study of the Gulen movement, will present significant value, because the movement's framework consists of the key criteria with the social movement theory such as seeking a solution to a problematic point, shared meaning, understanding or motivation. The data obtained through the in-depth interviews will use a qualitative method as the research method will be analyzed with content analysis and Nvivo. There has been a mass exodus of Turkish refugees to all over the world but mostly to European countries after 15 July 2016. A new field has emerged for research regarding the viewpoint of the movement members who came as political refugees in Europe, their activities in the diaspora and the integration situations in the host states they are in. When the Gulen movement is accepted as a faith inspired transnational movement, and having a pivotal role in Turkey, there is an important gap in which to work on a movement whose well-educated members are spreading all over the world. Although newly arrived Turkish refugees are the fifth largest ethnic group arriving in 2021 according to Finnish Immigration Service neither in the media nor in the research studies of the social fields has not been studied seriously; therefore, this study to be a reference to other future research. In this presentation, the effect of the members' relations with the Gulen movement, who were expelled from their countries due to belonging to a certain community and who are trying to integrate into a new society, on the integration processes will be discussed.

  1. Picturing nature, thinking wellbeing: Using arts-based methods to explore environmental aspects of relational wellbeing in the lives of young refugees.
    Nick Haswell: Tampere University

The impetus for this research emerged from an unforeseen finding that arose from an arts-based study on relational wellbeing in the lives of young refugees. Fifty-two former unaccompanied minors in Finland, Scotland and Norway created visual art representing the relational wellbeing (White, 2020) they experience in the present. We were expecting to see artworks that portrayed or symbolised participants’ connections to family, friends and associates, which many of the artworks did. Yet approximately half of these artworks depicted aspects of the natural environment as either a main point of focus, or as a visual frame for other elements.

White and Jha (2020) argue that relational wellbeing is enabled and constrained not only by personal factors and societal relationships but also environmental factors - “environmental drivers of wellbeing” - which may include physical dimensions such as ecosystems and climate, as well as social and psychological dimensions such as one’s relationship with, and level of exposure to, the natural world. This has thus far received very little scholarly attention. Specifically, young refugees’ own views on the nexus between the environment and their wellbeing remains underexplored, in Europe and beyond. This paper contributes to filling this gap by analysing how former unaccompanied minors use nature imagery to represent relational wellbeing.

Drawing on the results of a combined visual thematic analysis of artworks and narrative analysis of follow-up participant interviews conducted by the author, this paper considers what these artworks reveal about how young refugees’ conceive and experience the environment in the context of relational wellbeing. This research contributes to refugee studies by calling attention to the role of environmental factors and contexts in the wellbeing of young refugees and offers new perspectives on how environmental relations act as “drivers” of relational wellbeing.

  1. Art-based methods in exploring relational wellbeing in the lives of refugee youth in Finland
    Fath E Mubeen: Migration institute of Finland and Tampere University, Heidi Latvala-White and Marja Tiilikainen: Migration Institute of Finland & Mervi Kaukko: Tampere University

Asylum-seeking unaccompanied children and youth often face great challenges when they settle in a new country. These children are often represented as victims of traumatization, separated from families, alone and isolated, and experiencing racialization and other issues that may impact their wellbeing. Their wellbeing is frequently analyzed mainly through mental or psychological health parameters. This presentation, however, takes a different stance. Drawing on the narratives of young individuals who were once categorized as unaccompanied minors, this paper employs the concept of relational wellbeing (White 2018; Gergen 2009) in understanding how these young individuals – not victims but rather resilient subjects and owners of their own narratives – form and maintain meaningful relationships that are essential to their wellbeing.

Our investigation lies at the intersection of relational wellbeing and art-based methodologies. We consider how methods based on visual arts can be utilized to understand relational wellbeing in the lives of young people with a refugee background. The data consists of wellbeing-related art produced by the 17 participants, who originally arrived in Finland as unaccompanied asylum-seekers, and their narratives around the meaning of their artefacts. The aim of the workshops was to create a safe, creative and dialogic space where the participants could express and investigate their thoughts more freely and deeply. Together, the art and the narratives paint a rich picture of the interrelatedness of their relationships, wellbeing and settlement.

Our early findings show that art as a method allows the participants to explore and revisit memories and feelings related to important places, moments and people in their lives in a nuanced way. We aim to show how art as a medium provided a different kind of avenue to delve into meaningful connections that otherwise would be too raw or personal to reveal. At best, creating art around the topics of home, family and friends helped the participants to retain their identity, shape empowering relationships between each other and regain control of their narratives. These rich connections have great potential in contributing to their wellbeing. The data were collected as part of the Drawing Together project, funded by NordForsk (2020-2024).

  1. Me --> hero for my family! Family --> sun for me. Former unaccompanied minors’ navigation towards a good life in Finland, Norway and Scotland.
    Mervi Kaukko: Tampere University, Finland, Nick Haswell: Tampere University, Finland, Marte Knag Fylkesnes: NORCE, Norway, Paul Sullivan: CELCIS, the Centre for Excellence for Children's Care and Protection, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland

Navigation, drawing from the Latin navigare, means ‘to sail, sail over and go by sea’. Unlike walking or other type of travelling, it means moving in a moving environment., motion which responds to fluid and changeable circumstances. In social sciences, navigation has been used as an analytical metaphor to understand, for example, social (Vigh 2010) and moral (White and Jha 2020) movements people make in unstable conditions, as well as to shed light on the intersection of practices, people and changing social forces around them.

In this presentation, we use the metaphor of navigation to consider former unaccompanied minors’ movement towards living well with others. We draw on a set of parallel activities in Finland, Norway, and Scotland, conducted as part of Drawing Together-project’s welcome events. In these events, former unaccompanied minors, now young adults, participated in online and face to face dialogue on social networks and relational wellbeing. The collected data consists of post-it notes and short online responses to questions related to a good life and relationships.

Unlike many other young adults starting their independent lives, these participants’ navigation happens far away from their familial networks. However, the findings highlight they do not navigate alone. Instead, the participants referred to many old and new ties which support their navigation in the new environment, and the reciprocal nature of these ties. Living well was not discussed only in terms of achieving individual goals, but more so as movement with, for the sake of, and in relation to important people locally and transnationally. We conclude the presentation by envisioning the desired destination, that is, a world worth living in as our participants discussed it.

SESSION 5.2 Thursday 2.12.2021 at 17.00-18.30

  1. The object – A Metaphor for Relational Well-being in the midst of crisis.
    Masego Katisi: Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Milfrid Tonheim: Western Norway University of Applied Sciences, Sharon McGregor: CELCIS, the Centre for Excellence for Children's Care and Protection, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, Fath E. Mubeen: Migration Institute of Finland & Tampere University, Finland

Old and new social ties can contribute to the relational wellbeing of refugees. Metaphors like ‘symbolic objects’ have been used throughout decades by human beings of all cultures as symbols/representations of promise, commitment to a course, commitment to relationships and as rich objects that carry meaning of ‘feeling ok’ amid adversity. Most refugees and asylum seekers have had traumatic experiences in their home countries, often followed by hardships and deprivation on the journey of forced migration. Their experiences of forced migration include disconnections, new connections and reconnections as they move betwixt and between. Experiences of these connections carry with them a state of ‘feeling ok’ even when things are not ok. Sarah White states that feeling ok should be understood as an everyday good enough state of being rather than a state of bliss (Sarah White, 2015). Young peoples’ experiences of forced migration, travel following crisis and settlement in new countries bring with it both opportunities, and challenges. New relational connections and or reconnection with relationships back in their home countries or elsewhere contribute to ‘feeling ok ’ As part of our art-based methods in our international project between Norway, Finland and Scotland called Drawing Together, young people have used symbolic objects to share stories about their relationships and their well-being; hidden inward processes/experiences; strength of feeling ok regardless of adversities and opportunities that relationships have brought into their life.

This paper aims to explore what meanings and messages, hidden and explicit, are embedded in the narratives that former asylum-seeking unaccompanied minors shared when describing their selected objects in the Drawing together project (2020-2024), links to their important person, or other relationships and experiences. We draw on data collected in Norway individual interviews and narratives during art workshops with 17 young people, who had arrived as unaccompanied minors and received a permit to stay in Norway.

  1. Young refugees negotiating family relationships in Finland, Norway and Scotland
    Marja Tiilikainen: Migration Institute of Finland, Marte Knag Fylkesnes: Regional centre for child and adolescent mental health and child welfare West, Norwegian Research Centre (NORCE), Sharon McGregor: CELCIS, the Centre for Excellence for Children's Care and Protection, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland

Family life of refugees is shaped by migration policies, as only a very small number of young people are successfully reunited with parents and siblings after migration. The majority maintain and negotiate ties with family and kin at a distance, even though social media platforms may bridge the ‘there’ and the ‘here’ (Marlowe & Bruns, 2020). At the same time, they build new relationships with peers, colleagues, professionals and communities in their new countries. Knowledge about how young refugees maintain old family ties and (re)establish new family-like relationships over time, and how these processes are linked to each other, is however scarce.

In this paper, we explore how young people create relational wellbeing through relying on (often complex) family relationships and establishing new family-like relationships. Furthermore, we are interested in how young people understand the role and meaning of persons defined as family within the wider transnational and local network contexts. Our theoretical point of departure is an interest in the relationality of wellbeing, rather than looking at wellbeing as an individual outcome, and how societal structures impact on relational processes (White, 2015).

The data comprises individual interviews with 51 young people in Finland, Norway and Scotland about their social networks, with a particular focus on persons that young people define as ‘family’. In addition, we draw on paired interviews where some young people chose to be interviewed alongside someone who felt ‘family-like’, even though they were not a family member per se, about how their relationship had developed over time.

In the analysis we explore how young people describe ‘relational exchanges’ and how these are linked to processes of relational wellbeing in the present; for example, how different roles and types of relationships shape expectations and ways of staying in contact and supporting each other (and the opposite) as well as negotiated over time and linked to connectedness. Furthermore, we are interested in what young people’s narratives can teach us about the social structures within which important reciprocal and trusted relationships are negotiated, for example discourses of inclusion and exclusion, systems for redistribution of resources and power dynamics. The data were collected as part of the Drawing Together project, funded by NordForsk (2020-2024).

  1. Perceived threat or perceived benefit? Immigrants’ perception of how Finns tend to perceive them
    Ilkhom Khalimzoda: University of Jyväskylä

Research on how immigrants are perceived by locals has flourished extensively within the past decades. Through the lens of integrated threat theory and the threat benefit model, this study examines immigrants’ perceptions of how Finns tend to perceive them based on their lived experiences. In a sample of 103 immigrants from over 40 nationalities living in Finland, results indicate that overall, immigrants believe they are perceived more as a threat than a benefit to the Finnish society. Implications and opportunities for further research are discussed as well.