This study explored how forced migrant youth in transit renegotiated their identity and agency after fleeing their homes and sociocultural connections, and while enduring ongoing precarity in a new, oppressive sociopolitical environment in Malaysia. As Malaysia is a non-signatory state that denies legal
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This study explored how forced migrant youth in transit renegotiated their identity and agency after fleeing their homes and sociocultural connections, and while enduring ongoing precarity in a new, oppressive sociopolitical environment in Malaysia. As Malaysia is a non-signatory state that denies legal status to forced migrants, youth face significant structural barriers that constrain their capacities to participate in society and explore their identity. Using an innovative Peer Mediated Storyboard Narrative method (PMSN), thirteen adolescents visually depicted and then explained how their experiences of forced migration affected their sense of self, belonging, and future. Participants were receiving non-formal education and services from a migrant-serving agency in Malaysia while awaiting UNHCR adjudication of their application for resettlement. Youths’ transcribed narratives were the focus of analysis using constructivist grounded theory (CGT). Youth described a process whereby renegotiating identity was inextricably linked to (re)claiming agency, if only in situated ways, as they navigated oppression, discrimination, and rejection. Their renegotiation of identity involved (re)evaluating loss and opportunity, (re)constructing belonging, and working through prescribed identities. As youth renegotiated identities, they continuously sought to recreate agency, or a sense of ownership, over their experiences and stories. Their agency was situated within seemingly ordinary assertions of preserving and expanding their identities, forging spaces of belonging, and defining their own narratives rather than accepting prescribed identities. Perceived family support, duration of stay in Malaysia, and experiences as a girl or boy within their communities were key elements that shaped youths’ negotiation. Far from being passive recipients of circumstance, forced migrant youth strategically navigated systemic oppression and actively strove to reconstruct their identity and ownership over their experiences.