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As I complete this essay, people across the world are protesting a recent Executive Order banning refugees from entering the United States. Millions of people, organizations, other collectives, and even some corporations are crying out in solidarity that it is a human responsibility to provide refuge to those fleeing inhuman conditions. A detailed analysis of the ban and the reaction is beyond the scope of this essay, but my argument is deeply related to the issue at the center of the protests – refuge. I will argue that considering refuge brings to the analysis of contemporary conflict and displacement a focus on human capacity and responsibility. Millions of people protesting government bans against welcoming those most in need highlights the importance of understanding refuge – what it involves and who participates. This essay presents an argument about refuge as an urgent and practical concept for understanding challenges and interventions, especially for children and youth affected by war and displacement. I introduce the related processes of refuge, symbolic refuge, and narrating refuge with a vignette of how a family in Yemen is coping with daily life in the midst of war. Drawing on interdisciplinary scholarship, I build the definition of “refuge” as a political analysis of material and symbolic zones of purpose and responsibility. With this foundation, my central point is that research and practice in child and youth development should be supporting young people’s uses of language, in particular narrative, to mediate interactions in challenging environments and to foreground their perspectives on the issues. To illustrate this process of “narrating refuge”, I draw on examples from a study of dynamic storytelling by children and communities involved in conflict and displacement during and after the 1990s wars of the former Yugoslavia. Narrating refuge involves young people in interactions to make sense of what is going on in their environments, how they fit, and what they would like to achieve. The argument concludes by explaining how involving young people in such dynamic storytelling activities is an activist approach to practice and research in displacement.


This article was originally published in Europe's Journal of Psychology, available at doi:10.5964/ejop.v13i1.1386.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( licenses/by/3.0).



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