Young newcomers at the crossroads of new beginnings: A contextual framework on experiences in urban Belgium

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Our world is becoming increasingly connected, urban and diverse. Cities play a central role as hubs and cross points in migration processes. For a majority of youngsters with roots in migration, cities have become a place where they establish a new life. Such a displacement however, is not without challenges. One of the key aspects for young newcomers in establishing a new life, is that they are often forced to move to places where they cannot immediately enjoy full rights as citizens or receive the support needed to connect to this new environment.

The present dissertation voices the experiences, needs and strengths of young newcomers who (re)build their lives in urban Belgium. More specifically it aims to map young newcomers’ experiences and needs related to citizenship theoretically, and to social networks and social support empirically. In order to do so, two stages of qualitative interviews with 122 young newcomers within their first years in Belgium were deployed. The entire dissertation emerged through a close collaboration with more than 60 organisations in the field of youth work, governmental migration agencies and NGO’s.

The results of this dissertation demonstrate that young newcomers have fragile networks in their first years in Belgium. Young newcomers all experience a detachment from the society surrounding them. At the same time, they stress on a clear willingness to participate in their new communities on the one hand and to belong on the other. Structural barriers linked to their migration context show a need for a rights and participation approach towards a substantive access to and integration in society. A more balanced path between their perspective as young newcomers and young people, between vulnerability and resilience, between empowerment and emancipation, and between welfare organisations and youth work organisations is needed to generate a more balanced access to their new living environment.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherUniversity Press
Number of pages164
Publication statusPublished - 8 Oct 2020


  • doctoral thesis

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