Refugee Youth and Migration: Using Arts-Informed Research to Understand Changes in Their Roles and Responsibilities

  • Sepali Guruge Ryerson University
  • Michaela Hynie York University
  • Yogendra Shakya Access Alliance Multi Cultural Health Centre
  • Arzo Akbari Access Alliance Multi Cultural Health Centre
  • Sheila Htoo Access Alliance Health Project
  • Stella Abiyo Access Alliance Health Project
Keywords: across group analysis, Afghan youth, arts-informed research, arts-informed method, Canada, drawings, immigration, multilevel data analysis, Karen youth, migration, qualitative research, refugee youth, roles, responsibilities, Sudanese youth, within groups


This article presents the findings from a community-based qualitative study that utilized an arts-informed method to understand the changes in refugee youth's roles and responsibilities in the family within the (re)settlement context in Canada. The study involved 57 newcomer youths from Afghan, Karen, or Sudanese communities in Toronto, who had come to Canada as refugees. The data collection method embedded a drawing activity within focus group discussions. We present these drawings, as well as explanations and discussions to capture the complexities of their experiences. The data analysis involved 1. reflective dialogue between each participant and her/his own drawing; 2. group dialogue, reflection, and elaboration on meanings in the drawings; and 3. the research team's reflective dialogue. The findings revealed that the youths' roles and responsibilities have both changed and increased following migration, often involving interpretation and translation, and providing financial and emotional support to their family members, in addition to engaging in household chores and educational pursuits. Use of drawings as a data generation method enriched the findings of focus group discussions, and vice versa in a number of ways. We also present implications for future research involving arts-informed methods.



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Author Biographies

Sepali Guruge, Ryerson University

Dr. Sepali GURUGE is a Professor in the School of Nursing at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada. Her research focuses on the complex intersections of gender, race, class, and health throughout the pre-migration, border crossing, and post-migration contexts. In particular, her work has advanced knowledge in the area of violence against women and elder abuse in immigrant communities in Canada. Her most recent project (Strength in Unity, funded by Movember Foundation) aims to engage over 2,000 boys and men from East, South, and Southeast Asian communities in Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver, to address the stigma of mental illness in their communities in Canada. She is currently the Co-Director of the Centre for Global Health and Health Equity as well as Co-Lead of the Centre for Research and Education on Violence against Women and Children at Ryerson University. Her commitment to applying a global health perspective to immigrant health has led to collaborations with colleagues in Asia, Africa, Europe, and South and North America. She has published in several languages, making her work accessible beyond English-speaking audiences. Dr. GURUGE has received numerous awards for her work, and in 2014, was selected to be part of inaugural cohort of the College of the New Scholars, Artists, and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada.

Michaela Hynie, York University

Dr. Michaela HYNIE is a cultural psychologist who is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology at York University, UK, and the founder and Director of the York Institute of Health Research's Program Evaluation Unit. Dr. HYNIE is interested in engaged scholarship; working in partnership with students, communities and organizations, both locally and internationally, on research addressing complex social issues. Her work centers on the relationship between different kinds of social connections (interpersonal relationships, social networks) and resilience in situations of social conflict and displacement, and interventions that can strengthen these relationships in different cultural, political and physical environments. This includes work on culture, migration and health inequities; climate change adaptation and environmental displacement; and social integration of refugees. Dr. HYNIE's work has been funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Grand Challenges Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Lupina Foundation, and a range of health and human services agencies.

Yogendra Shakya, Access Alliance Multi Cultural Health Centre

Dr. Yogendra SHAKYA is the Senior Researcher Scientist at Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services and an Adjunct Professor at Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Canada. Dr. SHAKYA's research focuses on understanding how critical determinants (including employment, income, education, discrimination, linguistic barriers, and social isolation/exclusion) impact the health status and healthcare access for immigrants, refugees and racialized communities. He has ten years of experience leading dozens of successful multi-phase, multi-collaborative research projects. He is particularly interested in building evidence and mobilizing social/policy action to overcome health disparities. Dr. SHAKYA is a recognized leader in implementing and promoting community-based research practices and has trained hundreds of marginalized community members (including youth), and engaged them in leadership capacity as co-producers of knowledge.

Arzo Akbari, Access Alliance Multi Cultural Health Centre

Ms. Arzo AKBARI was a peer youth researcher on the Refugee Youth Research Project at Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Service, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She is a graduate of the University of Toronto with a background in political science, languages and literatures. Ms. AKBARI is a community member and activist who is passionate about social justice issues. She has participated in various community-based research projects throughout the GTA, and enjoys sharing and learning about lived experiences of compassion, courage and resilience.

Sheila Htoo, Access Alliance Health Project

Ms. Sheila HTOO came from remote refugee camps in Thailand to Canada in 2004 as a sponsored refugee student. Since 2007, Ms. HTOO has been a peer researcher and knowledge exchange leader of Access Alliance's several community-based research projects including the Refugee Youth Health Project and the Knowledge-to-Action (KTA) Initiative. She has also been working with the newly emerging populations in Toronto as a medical interpreter and an outreach worker. Recognizing many unique needs and challenges faced by the underserved Karen refugee community in Toronto and in Canada, she acts a strong community advocate and is very interested in making changes through community-based research and participatory planning processes with marginalized communities. She holds a Master of Science degree in planning from the University of Toronto, and is currently a PhD Candidate in the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Stella Abiyo, Access Alliance Health Project

Ms. Stella ABIYO is a community worker with over seven years of experience within community settings assisting new immigrants, refugee youth, and women fleeing and living in domestic violence situations as well as persons who have been diagnosed with mental health issues. Ms. MONA worked as a Refugee Youth Peer Researcher on the Refugee Youth Research Project at Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. She holds Honors Bachelor of Arts in women and gender/equity studies, Diploma in assaulted women/children counseling advocate and recently graduated with a Bachelor of social work. She is currently working as a housing support worker, with women who have been diagnosed with mental health issues. Ms. ABIYO has developed an interest in the intersectionality of mental health and immigration processes particularly those coming into Canada from war zones, and hopes to make this the chore of her interactions with individuals diagnosed with mental health.

How to Cite
Guruge, S., Hynie, M., Shakya, Y., Akbari, A., Htoo, S., & Abiyo, S. (2015). Refugee Youth and Migration: Using Arts-Informed Research to Understand Changes in Their Roles and Responsibilities. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 16(3).
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