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How Peer Researchers Became Crucial in Researching Vulnerable Migrant Youth

The MIMY project combines analysis with empirical insights, and relies heavily on peer researchers whose role was crucial in building trust, and without whom it would have been impossible to do the research.

European societies need to find new ways to tackle the challenges arising from integration of young immigrants and to avoid social exclusion. Successful integration will make migration an opportunity for both migrants and host societies.

The 3-year “Empowerment through Liquid Integration of Migrant Youth in Vulnerable Conditions” (MIMY) project, in which the CEU Democracy Institute is a consortium member, is a comparative interdisciplinary study of migrant integration with the aim of empowering young migrants in vulnerable conditions and supporting integration strategies within the EU. The project brings together 11 disciplines and 14 partners to examine the dynamic, open-ended process of integration at the EU, national and local level by examining 18 case studies within 9 countries (Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, UK, Hungary, Romania, and Poland).

“Academically speaking the project is not very special and really special at the same time. It deals with young migrants in vulnerable positions.

There are many research projects focusing on youth, on people in vulnerable situation, on immigrants, but the three together, definitely there is not so much research on that,”

said our Research Fellow Vera Messing. “It was very difficult to circumscribe vulnerability. The project is taking place in 9 different countries. Who is an immigrant in the given context also differs a lot. They are in very different legal positions,” she continued.

MIMY applies a comprehensive mixed methods approach combining secondary analysis with unique qualitative empirical insights. It is built on four legs: desk research, quantitative secondary data analysis, empirical studies of qualitative research, and synthesis of findings.

Furthermore, peer research is another very important element of the project. It means that young people with migration experiences are important collaborators within the research team: they are actively involved in creating, shaping and delivering the research, including analysis and dissemination. This includes learning the practical skills to undertake community-based research with other young migrants facing vulnerable conditions, and to engage with a wider set of local actors who have knowledge on the conditions of vulnerability young migrants may face, such as earlier waves of migrants.

“Peer researchers were crucial. This relationship, working with these young people makes one really conscious of the existing power relations, not just in terms of being an academic working with a young person, but in being reflexive about our positionality in society,”

said our Research Fellow Zsuzsanna Arendas.

Working in the project as a peer researcher opened a lot of doors for Isaac, one of the peer researchers. “I joined the project when the Covid-period was coming to its end. It was quite a challenge to organize people to come together and do consultations, but it gave me a clear view on how our society changes when there is trouble. There were many issues people were facing, but they still turned up.

It was also good for me to understand the position of peer researcher, because it was my first time to be in such a project. It gives you some kind of responsibility and ownership,”

he explained.

“Working with peer researchers is not an easy method. It means a joint "meaning-making", reconciliation of different viewpoints, understandings of certain social practices and instances.” Zsuzsanna said, and Vera agreed, but she also emphasized that “it was super easy with Isaac.”

“It’s not meant to be an easy method, but at the same time it adds a lot to the quality of the knowledge, which can be synthetized from these interactions,”

Zsuzsanna continued.

The situation was complicated for several reasons. “The Covid-19 pandemic overshadowed the entire project and was a real curse,” Zsuzsanna argues, adding that “there is the hostile political environment in Hungary, when it comes to do research about immigrants. To talk to people who are being demonized by the regime, and encourage them to talk to ask and work with us is not an easy task, it's fully understandable if they wish to remain invisible. It required a certain amount of courage and openness from our peer researchers.”

“It was very difficult to recruit peer researchers.

In Hungary many immigrants are in vulnerable positions because of the general anti-immigrant discourse and the lack of institutional integration measures. But most of them don’t speak Hungarian, do not necessarily understand the context and have to work a lot because of their existential situation. So they don’t have time, and we could offer only a little amount of compensation. Many of them are only temporarily in Hungary, and it is a three-year project,” Vera continues.

Still, two peer-researchers worked on the project for a longer while in Hungary: Isaac and Agus, and Isaac is very happy for his decision to join.

“I met peer researchers also from other countries, and I saw that also for them it was going well, because I saw the connections to their community,”

he said.

Peer researchers joined stakeholders in workshops to discuss findings and inform policy and practice. This influencing work is amplified by developing arts-based projects on issues around integration, which are shared with key stakeholders in an effort to catalyze action and positive change. Through this peer research approach, young migrants themselves have their voices heard on integration debates.

“Peer researchers were absolutely crucial, because the research tries to approach immigrant youth and speak about their experience. And this is very private and personal.

If we just tried to reach out to people who don’t know us, they would have said no. Without Isaac and Agus, we couldn’t have done the research,” Vera said. “Without building trust with people, you cannot do research. During the pandemic, so without face-to-face meetings, and with this political atmosphere, it is almost impossible to build trust. So Isaac and Agus were absolutely crucial. They offered us the trust that was invested in them,” she continued. Zsuzsanna agreed: “Isaac and other peer researchers added a lot to the project, because their point of view enriches and broadens our perspective to a large extent.”

“I think one of the goals of the project was to provide opportunity for vulnerable youth with whom we work together,”

Zsuzsanna said, and Isaac agrees with her: “You learn a lot of things when you join such a project,” he said.

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