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Title: Forever 17: The Contested Ages of Asylum Seekers in Germany
Authors: Bialas, Ulrike
Advisors: Duneier, Mitchell
Contributors: Sociology Department
Keywords: Age
Subjects: Sociology
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Since 2015, hundreds of thousands of young unaccompanied men from the Greater Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa have sought asylum in Germany without identifying documents. While some preferred not to disclose their identity, others actually did not own documents, particularly ones containing a date of birth. Because age does not have much cultural or legal importance in parts of the Global South, many of these young asylum seekers did not even know their exact date of birth. Germany, however, relies on a rigid distinction between minors and adults to determine eligibility for youth welfare, the applicability of asylum and residence laws, and the allocation of other crucial rights and resources. The German state has therefore faced the challenge of how to determine asylum seekers’ ages, while young asylum seekers themselves often believe that minority is their only chance for a safe and fulfilling life in Europe and therefore resort to the cumbersome process of establishing their minority and the infantilizing reality of living as a minor. Based on more than three years of ethnographic fieldwork with young, male asylum seekers in Berlin, as well as age examiners, social workers, and volunteers, this dissertation shows the negotiations between the German state and young unaccompanied asylum seekers over their age and the daily struggles of living with a contested identity. Not only are dates of birth ultimately impossible to determine, the conflict over migrants’ minority also reveals the true complexity and cultural contingencies of the only at first glance natural category age. Age may not be the best proxy for migrants’ vulnerability at all, as a binary distinction between minors and adults obscures the nuances of youth, impedes the healthy desires for independence and self-actualization of those scrambling to be classified as minors, and leaves those classified as young adults outside vital state support systems.
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Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Sociology

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