“The Best Risky Point”: Agency and Decision-Making in Young Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers' Stories of Leaving Home and Travelling to Australia





unaccompanied young asylum seekers, asylum decision-making, asylum journeys, agency, vulnerability, non-doxic situations, border situations


Seeking asylum is a perilous endeavour with unpredictable border crossings, protection prospects, and settlement outcomes. Young unaccompanied asylum seekers face even greater risks. Yet exclusively characterizing them as vulnerable or passive ignores their agency in making choices in a range of unique, dynamic, and challenging circumstances. In this article, we use deep ethnographic methodology to amplify young asylum seekers’ voices, examining their capacity to enact agency along the asylum journey. We employ Bourdieu’s non-doxic contexts and Jackson’s “border situations” to describe the unstable environments young people navigate at home and during their journey to Australia.

Our findings reveal a nuanced picture of young people both as objects of other people’s decisions (with reduced agency) and as highly engaged in dynamic decision-making during their journey to Australia (with more salient agency). These findings indicate the importance of research methods that steer away from fixed assumptions around vulnerability and victimhood to recognize the agentic capacity of young people to make life-defining decisions even as they find themselves in transnational border situations that seek to control and constrain them.


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Author Biographies

Tori Stratford, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia

Tori Stratford is an Associate Lecturer at Deakin University. She can be reached at tori.stratford@deakin.edu.au.

Amy Nethery, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia

Amy Nethery is a Senior Lecturer in Politics and Policy at Deakin University. She can be reached at amy.nethery@deakin.edu.au.

Fethi Mansouri, Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University, Burwood, Australia

Fethi Mansouri is an Alfred Deakin Professor and Director of the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University. He can be reached at fethi.mansouri@deakin.edu.au


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How to Cite

Stratford, T., Nethery, A., & Mansouri, F. (2023). “The Best Risky Point”: Agency and Decision-Making in Young Unaccompanied Asylum Seekers’ Stories of Leaving Home and Travelling to Australia. Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 39(1), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.25071/1920-7336.41065

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