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When the Somalian exodus started at the beginning of the 1990s, most refugees fled to the neighbouring countries including Kenya. Others moved to Europe or North America, but also to Arab countries. There is, however, a growing group of Somalian migrants, who, after having lived abroad for a number of years, are now 'returning' to East Africa. In many cases, this means settling in Kenya, as Somalia is still regarded as too insecure and volatile. In Kenya they find a strong Somali community, made up from ethnic Somalis who are Kenyan citizens, as well as refugees from Somalia living in Kenya. 


Many of these Somali return migrants in Kenya are parents with children, who try to counter perceived 'Westernisation' through dhaqan celis (return to culture). Others are young adults who grew up outside of East Africa and have often no remembrance of Somalia, but try to establish themselves in the region. Some of these return migrants are clearly visible due to their conspicuous affluence. There are, however, also those Somalians who were forced to move back to the East African region - these 'deportees' were in many cases either legally or socio-economically excluded. 

This project focuses on the question how experiences of migration shape the decisions to stay or to re-migrate. Concentrating on Somalian return migrants in Kenya, the project will furthermore examine how new forms of solidarity and identification can emerge in the migration process. At the same time, it will refine categorisations, such as the meaning of 'arrival' and 'return'. 

This project was part of the Research Initiative on Migration of the Max Planck Society 'The Challenges of Migration, Integration and Exclusion'

(in cooperation with the Institute of Anthropology at the University of Leipzig, Dr. Markus Hoehne)


This baseline study aims at closing the knowledge gap concerning Somali refugees in Germany. The research will be carried out by students from the university and by Somali migrants themselves, under the supervision by Dr. Markus Höhne (University of Leipzig) and Dr. Tabea Scharrer (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Halle). The project will explore which factors are important for the way people settle down in their new locations. Somalis often perceive themselves as 'second class refugees': they feel they do not receive the same support from the state as other refugees would get. Many Somalis do not have their cases decided quickly; they are kept in a limbo for many months and sometimes years; for a long time they found it more difficult to enrol in German courses and were more often unemployed. The project will also explore if their migration trajectories vary according to pre-migration differences among them. Furthermore, it will be asked how their post-migration situation influences their perception of life in Germany. The research also investigates if there is considerable ‘onward-migration’ within Europe, or if there are any deportations/voluntary returns happening from Germany back to Somali.

Student researchers (all Leipzig University): Inga Albrecht, Malika Autorkhanova, Vittoria Fiore, Monika König, Julia Kühl, Stephan Steuer

Post-graduate researchers: Samia Aden, Najah Osman

In 1991 around 400.000 people from Somalia fled to Kenya. While the Kenyan government tried to contain these forced migrants in camps, many people settled outside either in the north eastern part of Kenya, with its ethnic Somali population, or in cities like Nairobi, Mombasa or Nakuru. At the same time, Kenyan Somalis from North Eastern Province also moved into the urban areas from the 1990s onwards. From the beginning onwards, various conflicts evolved in the various localities, during which Somali migrants have been depicted as Muslim fundamentalists bringing terrorism to Kenya and/or as ruthless businessmen getting control over the Kenyan economy. This research project looks behind these stereotypes by asking what specific impact the migration of Somalis to Kenyan cities had on the local communities.


In Nakuru, a town with approximately 350.000 inhabitants and the main field site, around 10.000 Somalis are living, the vast majority of them came since 1990. Already in the colonial time, a small Somali settlement existed in the town, mainly populated by Somalis from British Somaliland, working for the colonial army or administration. In the early 1990s the Somali population in town changed considerably. While people from Somalia and the North Eastern Province came to the urban centres, young people from the already settled Somali families left, many of them migrating to Europe or North America. From the 2000s onwards, a fourth group of Somali migrants can be seen in the urban centres - people ‚coming back’ from Europe, North America and Arab countries. In addition to looking at the impact of Somali migrants on the local communities, the focus of this research project lies on cities as fields of interaction between the different groups of Somali migrants, their distinct ways of integration into the local communities and the diverse ways of constructing identity and difference.

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