This presentation reflects on preliminary findings of a drama-based research project that explored the experiences and perceptions of undocumented migrant children living in Cape Town. Participants’ recurring references to discrimination, xenophobia, crime and loneliness show that their lack of a legal status specifically as well as their foreign nationality more generally affect their daily lives in practical and emotional terms. Participants’ enacted performances display notions of vulnerability and victimhood on the one hand and agency on the other hand. I interrogate how state actors, civil society and academic discourses instrumentalize these contrasting notions for their own purposes in an attempt to either enhance or restrict migrant children’s status in society. I conclude by arguing that neither the children’s actual nor attributed agency is sufficient to transform their status if they live in a state that does not recognize their presence.
Lena is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Applied Human Rights, University of York (UK), and currently a visiting student at the Centre for Social Science Research at UCT. Her PhD explores the experiences of unaccompanied and undocumented migrant children in Cape Town through a theatre-based methodology. Lena has a background in International Humanitarian Action (MA) from the University of Uppsala (Sweden) and in Cultural Sciences (BA) from the European University Viadrina (Germany). Prior to her PhD she worked for several years in the protection of refugees and migrants in South Africa, Ecuador and Angola. From 2008 to 2011 she led the Scalabrini Centre of Cape Town’s advocacy programme with a particular focus on advocating for the rights of unaccompanied foreign children, disabled refugees and persons affected by xenophobic violence.