Youth and the Camp: a time and place of waiting. Young people’s perspectives of Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi
This thesis explores encampment through a lens of ‘youth in waiting’ in Dzaleka refugee camp, Malawi. Examining the thoughts and experiences of 40, Congolese, Burundian and Rwandan young people, aged 17 to 29, living in Dzaleka for various amounts of years, it seeks to expand current depictions of camps as places of ‘contradiction’, ‘indistinction’, and ‘ambiguity’. Grounded in ever-blurring refugee/citizen, camp/non-camp divides, these depictions have been useful for aligning theory more closely to lived realities, whilst revealing the camp’s spillover into urban life. Nonetheless, daily life in camps continues to unfold under a powerful and effective humanitarian rationale and management (Jansen, 2011) and accordingly, insufficient attention has been given to the camp as a time and place of (active) waiting such forces induce. Furthermore, despite a growing child-focus, existing studies are adult-centric, overlooking the perspectives of those no longer children but yet to acquire locally defined markers of social adulthood. Thus, the thesis asks: What can a lens of youth in waiting bring to an understanding of the camp? This is an interesting approach given the conceptual similarities between ‘youth’ and the ‘camp’, both liminal times and places of transit, but increasingly experienced by many worldwide as stuckness and permanence. Moreover, it is young, displaced people’s heightened and complex rapport with waiting that merit its focus. Those in camps wait for onwards physical mobility like many across generations, but also for social (inter-generational) mobility, and need to enter adulthood. The study finds young people’s portrayals of encampment are intimately tied to their generational stage and ensuing perceptions of ‘waiting to leave’. Speaking to Jansen’s (2016) hypothesis of ‘humanitarian urbanising’ camps as ‘nodal points’ for people to build themselves for unknown durations, young people describe Dzaleka as a temporary “bridge” providing particular pathways for them to move forwards with their lives. Whilst some perceive their waiting as “stuckness”, onwards movement through third-country resettlement the only way to transition from youth, others, having had more time to see this unlikely opportunity for the “double-edged sword” (Brun, 2015) it is, and focussing on formal learning in the camp, are “taking steps” within Dzaleka; waiting described as a time to be “living where you are”. The study therefore aims to bring new insights into ‘forced’ mobility and ‘durable solutions’, displaced young people fleeing a wider set of interconnected insecurities beyond conflict and violence alone, now looking to escape ‘waithood’, the camp potentially being a unique time and place to do so.