Restricting participation : Unaccompanied children in interpreter-mediated asylum hearings in Sweden

Sammanfattning: The overall goal of this thesis was to highlight different communicative aspects of participation in interpreter-mediated asylum hearings with unaccompanied Russianspeaking children who had applied for asylum in Sweden between 2001 and 2005. Participation in the asylum process is guaranteed to these children by the Swedish Administrative Law and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which are incorporated in the Swedish Aliens Act. The Migration authorities in their work with asylum seeking minors have integrated principles of the best interests of the child and the principle of respecting the children’s views on matters concerning them.In this thesis, we have studied the conditions of participation in a highly complex, hybrid activity type, where participants face contradictory demands. Hybridity can be traced in communicative dilemmas which are difficult to solve and handle for all the participants involved, including the caseworkers, interpreters and children. The caseworkers are expected to control an interview in which whole of the communicative exchange is rendered by interpreters who influence the progress of the encounter. Contradiction lies in the fact that the caseworkers are expected to treat all asylum seekers equally both as a group and individually, by relating to general legal regulations and at the same time, take into account the interests and individual needs of an individual child. It might be difficult for these caseworkers to stay neutral and meet underage clients whose life stories and experiences, conduct and needs differ considerably from what is usually ascribed to children.Asylum seeking children come to Sweden to stay. Our results have shown that they take an active role in their attempts to lead to a positive outcome in their cases. In this respect, children’s testimonies and the impression they make as informants play a salient role. The communicative tasks faced by the adolescents are, however, difficult to achieve. Previous life conditions, vulnerability, psychosomatic problems, and memory and concentration difficulties may affect their performance. Other factors which might further impede these children from achieving their task is the pragmatic and linguistic deficiency, which they experience in a context where they lack communicative means and are not fully aware of the norms and regulations relevant for the encounter. Despite hese limitations, it seems that these minors try hard to shoulder their role as asylum seekers and informants actively and strategically. One strategy chosen by the children was to disclose information selectively. They tried to avoid answering questions which could reveal their age, origin or the whereabouts of their caregivers and thereby enable authorities to establish their identity and send them back. To compensate for their uncooperativeness in this area, the adolescents tended to provide information which had not been asked for.Our studies have shown that children could have been prevented by both the caseworkers and interpreters from expressing their views and opinions in a free and self-chosen way. In this respect, interpreters’ contributions were salient for what information was forwarded to the caseworkers. In some cases, they changed both the language and the format of the responses provided by the children. Some of the communicative strategies which were initiated by the interpreters could be linked to both their professional skills and to the hybridity and the complexity of the situation. Interpreters had difficulties staying neutral in relation to the children and orient them in the encounters. Age differences between the participants could also have an impact on how the children were treated and the respect and importance attributed to their voices. We have identified sequences where interpreters initiated monolingual exchanges with one of the interlocutors where they actively tried to exclude and discredit the children’s voices, something which often happened with the tacit approval of the caseworkers.Thus, it can be seen that communicative premises which are inherent in the asylum hearings influence the participant statuses of the children and their possibilities to express their asylum claims.