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Across Europe reaching the age of 18 is the moment that childhood ends and adulthood begins, a much-anticipated event when finally, autonomy is granted. Their adolescence over, they are beginning to take their first steps in the world as fully-fledged adults. They can vote in elections, drive a car and drink alcohol. It is also a time of celebration and independence. A time of beginnings.

But for thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of young people this landmark birthday, this coming of age is a terrifying prospect. They are the unaccompanied migrant children in Europe. For them, in stark contrast to their peers, turning 18 means a diminution of their rights as they lose the protection afforded to them as children. The obligation that European States have to protect the civil and human rights of these young people vanishes on the stroke of midnight.

At Lost in Europe we have been reporting on the lives of unaccompanied child migrants for four years. This year we want to deepen our understanding of their lives. In the year up to the 2024 European Parliamentary election we want to tell their stories in new rich and compelling ways. We are creating a digital storytelling resource using audio and layered visual material to build a picture of the young people's lives, aspirations and struggles as they turn 18. Using portraits, interiors, landscapes and ephemera, some acquired through collaborative and participatory methods with those taking part, we will give them the opportunity to celebrate their story so far. We will return to them regularly over the next year as the continent prepares for election. In a climate of economic hardship brought on by COVID with swirling nationalism, we at Lost In Europe fear it is the lives of these people that will suffer as States engage in a race to the bottom in terms of their treatment of 'illegal' migrants.

This multi-layered, multidisciplinary project will build on Lost In Europe's existing network of 29 journalists working across 14 European countries. In each nation they will act as a guide, contextualising the local contours of the immigration debate and teasing out aspects of each story and building a relationship with their subject(s). Inspiration for this project is a combination of the great Up series, film project by Michael Apted, where children were followed and portrayed every 7 years of their life, and the prize-winning project Cream Cake and Paper Chains, by Ilvy Njiokiktjien who portrayed The Netherlands in 100 Birthdays.

In the next newsletter on Project 18, we will tell you more about how this project will be implemented and what you can contribute. 

Geesje van Haren
Geesje van Haren
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