Accepted paper:

'I can't die here': Fears for the Present and Hopes for the Future among Somali Refugees in Nairobi, Kenya


Lucy Lowe (University of Edinburgh)

Paper short abstract:

Protracted displacement, a widely hostile environment and the lure of perceived better opportunities in ‘outside’ countries make migration an alluring prospect for Somali refugees living in Kenya. This paper will explore how people focus on their possibilities for onward migration through resettlement, reunification, or illegal means of migration as a way in which to escape Kenya and improve their lives.

Paper long abstract:

Landscapes of hope and despair are descriptive of many contexts of forced migration, and perhaps none more so than protracted refugee situations. For many Somali refugees, the ongoing conflict in their home country, now lasting more than twenty years, has dulled hopes for return. For those living in Kenya, policies that require encampment and severely restrict movement and livelihood opportunities, frequent arbitrary arrests and extortion from the police, as well as widespread xenophobia from their hosts, have fostered a hostile and insecure context for many, with limited opportunities for the future. Drawing on fieldwork among Somalis living in the Eastleigh, or 'Little Mogadishu' area of Nairobi, this paper will look at how diminished hopes for return have intensified desires for onward migration. The frequent return of friends and relatives from countries that are often seen as more desirable, either through deportation or using their highly-prized foreign passports for visits, as well as communication through the immensely popular use of social networking sites, further fosters narratives of opportunities abroad. Furthermore, they provide an opportunity to share advice on both legal and illegal means of reaching their desired destinations, allowing people to make important life decisions based on their need to qualify for particular migration criteria. The difficult and time consuming process of legal migration, either through resettlement or family reunification, means that people were able to maintain their hopes for onward migration over substantial periods of time, despite the many obstacles facing Somalis.

panel MMM14
New geographies of hope and despair