Unaccompanied young migrants and refugees coming of age in the UK and Italy: pathways through immigration control and welfare regimes

The issue of unaccompanied young migrants and refugees ‘disappearing’ in EU countries is of great international concern, with 10,000 minors estimated to have disappeared in 2015 alone and thousands more as they turn 18. Unaccompanied young migrants usually have clear ideas about the objective of their migration/migratory project, shaped by their subjective ideas and those of family members and social networks. These tend to relate to safety, work, education or social network/family reunification or a combination of these. These projects are dynamic and change over time in response to subjective and structural factors. Drawing on 60 interviews with unaccompanied young migrants and refugees in cities in the UK and Italy, stakeholder interviews and participant observation in reception centres, this paper argues that the different ‘welfare constellations’ and support set-ups in the two contexts are more favourable to certain migratory projects over others. These welfare constellations appear to be shaped, in part, by the national immigration control and welfare regimes. Young migrants are aware of such differences and make decisions, take risks and migrate onwards accordingly over time. This challenges the myth of a common European system for unaccompanied minors and has important implications for how young migrants and refugees engage with and understand the welfare state in a context of increasing surveillance and immigration control.