Exploring Somali narratives of secondary immigration

  • 21 Pages
  • Published On: 20-12-2023

Executive Summary

Since the 1990s, Somalis have been leaving their homeland and seeking asylum in other countries due to the civil war, difficult economic condition, breakdown of law and order, and other such difficult circumstances (Moret, et al., 2006). From the late 1990s, secondary migration happened from Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands due to declining employment opportunities and the established Somali Diaspora in the UK (Farah, 2012). It is usual that young people and their families are exposed to, disruption of their social life, high levels of violence and losses, which expose to risk for psychiatric disorders (Hodes, 2000). Such experiences are not different to the Somali refugee families, who also struggle to make a living in the UK. The problem is compounded by their trauma of immigrating, exposure to violence, and greater risk to mental health problems (Betancourt, et al., 2015). One factor that contributes to such traumatic experience is the hostile immigration policies of the UK along with the problem of detention and deportation of people who have been staying in the United Kingdom (Godshaw, 2020). This is particularly relevant with those young Somali immigrants or those who were born in the UK. This leads to dilution of the cultural identity, which is a traumatic experience affecting the way they feel about belonging and identity in Britain (Godshaw, 2020).

I was a secondary immigrant. I have struggled with the sense of belongingness in the new acquired British society. This has happened with almost every Somali I have come across. Their life experiences reflect a narrative about their sense of integration and identity. Thus, the forced mobility of Somali secondary immigrants impacts their sense of identity in respect to identifying themselves as British (Valentine, et al., 2009; Warfa, et al., 2012; Yuval-Davis, 2006).

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The aim of my research was to explore the life experiences of secondary migrants to the UK and how they have struggled to identify themselves in the British society. This research will review literatures of Warfa and colleagues (2012), Valentine and collegaues (2009), Somers (1994), Rasmussen (2011) to name a few. On this basis, the main research question will be whether or not the transition in respect to secondary migration impacts the personal identity and educational experiences of Somali secondary immigrants in the UK. This research proposes that it does. Young Somali people undergo a constant struggle of identifying themselves as Somali despite their struggle in complying with the existing social narratives and adverse education experiences, and of establishing a sense of belonging to the British society (Somers, 1994; Valentine, et al., 2009; Liberatore, 2017; Lindley & Hear, 2007; Antonsich, 2010).

While doing this research, I realised the intensity of the struggle of Somalis to make a living in the new society and a struggle to maintain a balance between this responsibility and the effort to integrate in the new society. The struggle is enhanced with most of the Somalis not able communicate about their struggle. There is a cultural taboo in the Somali community to speak out such struggles. I found the struggle arising from being immigrants as the most significant factor causing additional responsibility to find place in the society in terms of survival and integration. In such circumstances, expressing one’s feeling takes a secondary place. Compounding the problem, the young Somalis face the issue of generation gaps with their parents. While the older Somalis desire to go back to their homeland, the young Somalis prioritses integrating and finding a unique identity as Somalis in the British Society.

The literature review has found that despite the constant social negotiation by young Somali asylum seekers, they are always struggled to integrate to the new ways of life. The social demography is new to them. Their roles are defined by this new social structure. As a result, they face constant hurdles in adjusting to the new belongingness. This includes their struggle in the school system with different course content and style of teaching due to their frequent mobility (Valentine, Sporton, & Nielsen, 2009).

Secondary mobility and impact on Somali identity and education experience

The sense of ethnic minority could arise from the constant struggle of secondary immigrants who are trying to integrate into the British society by not losing their Somali identity (Valentine, et al., 2009). Since the pupils left their homeland when they were younger or were born during the transit, they have limited memories and no direct experiences of Somalia. Whatever knowledge they have about Somalia was through their families and communities (Valentine, et al., 2009).

Some Somali refugees living in London were disillusioned about their aspirations. They experienced a devalued identity and are exposed to challenges of employment and legal certainties that are collectively affecting their psychological well-being (Warfa, et al., 2012). All these circumstances led to the emergence of a separate black identity through the life experiences of first- and second-generation immigrant pupils from the 'African' diasporas since the 1990s in the British society. This identity signifies an ethnic minority and unify experiences of those disparate groups of ethnic minorities (Rassool, 1999). Young Somalis are wary of calling themselves ‘British’, which is a white identity. They often found themselves with challenges of integrating in the education systems as they receive very little support to learn English and to assimilate themselves in the educational system (Valentine, et al., 2009). Further, the issue of identity and integration have also led to intercultural differences between generations where the younger people feel the older generation and their parents do not understand their struggle for identify and integration (Valentine, et al., 2009).

Yuval-Davis and colleagues (2005) hold the view that belonging to a nation is not merely about citizenship and the rights and responsibilities. It is about the emotions that citizenship evoke, more particularly the security arising out of being in ‘place’ (Yuval-Davis, et al., 2005). Thus, citizenship is an emotion generated from a person’s association with the communities and neighbourhoods. It is not about the legal rights and duties as a citizen (Antonsich, 2010). Nira Yuval-Davis (2006) states that belonging is emotional attachment, the feeling at home and feeling safe (Yuval-Davis, 2006).

The British social structure allowed development of multi-culture society. This also helped the Somalis created their own local social structure in their own community defined by shared values, practices and networks. Due to this structure, they feel secured to be within the community bringing them stability (Valentine, et al., 2009).

Margaret Somers (1994) adopted a narrative approach to analysing identity and claims that people become who they are by “being located or locating ourselves (usual unconsciously) in social narratives rarely of our own making”. This applies to young asylum seekers who would often negotiate and position themselves within the social narratives, which are not of their own making; be valued or judged in particular social ways; and would be define their role in that society (Somers, 1994, p. 606). Secondary Somali immigrants must have faced such negotiation they first travel to other EU states, such as Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands and when they moved to the UK from these states (Farah, 2012). While some moved to Bristol, the East End of London, Liverpool and Sheffield that have an already established Somali community, some moves to new location such Birmingham. The mobility was based on mainly two things. First is the economic consideration, where the UK offered better economic wage differences and business opportunities, and social, cultural and political structure for the Somalis to adjust and integrate. Second is the opportunity to regroup as a community, unlike the initial settlement in other EU states and other countries where the settlement was scattered (liempt, 2011).

The sense of belonging and identify and the issues of integration are all defined by the social norms, which are not of their making. For example, particular challenge faced is that of the issue of language, which further causes intergenerational or familial tensions. Somali parents perceive and practice the idea that speaking Somali at home is important in order to ensure that the children remain rooted to the Somali identity (Valentine, et al., 2009). However, the parental vision is not shared majority of the young Somalis (Valentine, et al., 2009). In current times, the Somalis arriving in the UK are mostly the secondary migrants, who hold citizenship or refugee status in another EU member states (Lindley & Hear, 2007). They are highly qualified and many of them avail the transnational connections in the UK. They see the potential of creating a Somali identity in the UK as Somali has now a larger community and a longer history of settlement (Liberatore, 2017).

Education in Somalia community in general has been crucial standard to determine status differentiation since the 1970s (Liberatore, 2017). However, many refugees and asylum seeker children are exposed to disadvantages in the educational system. School system and services are neighbourhood-based, which assumes that most people are located in one place. Young asylum seekers are frequently moved or may be detained in adult centres. They are exposed to different course content, different style of teaching, and the frequent integration mobility that disrupts their relationships with teachers. The issue of mobility also exposes them to isolation and repeated struggle to establish new friendship and peer groups (Valentine, et al., 2009). Somali pupils also face the issue of racial harassment, cultural alienation and poverty, bullying at schools and of general negative attitudes towards refugees and asylum-seekers, make them disengage from their school life and the community at large (Rasmussen, 2011).

Filomeno (2017) states that according to the localist approach, local problems associated with immigration can prompt local policies shaped by local conditions and produce local outcomes. The local conditions may include identity and ethnic composition of the concerned local community; competition between immigrants and natives for available local resources; and the local mobilisation of immigrant-supporting organisations (Filomeno, 2017). In absence of consideration, efforts of Boroughs and school offices and the services by the Somali community organisations, have not been able to address the need out of local condition (Rasmussen, 2011).

Analysis of the research approach and findings

At the time of submitting the proposal, the research was designed to involve interviewing five students from Somali background. The interviews were designed to be conducted through zoom due to COVID-19 restrictions. Each of the interviews was designed for thirty (30) to sixty (60) minutes to be audio recorded and later transcribed. The research design was meant to involve contacting the pupils through phone calls and emails and enable sharing a range of resources and other information to enable them to make an informed decision. The face-to-face interview approach would have enabled a narrative of the experiences of young Somalis (Ayres, 2008). This would have enabled a personal level engagement enabling myself as the researcher to attain a better understanding of the experience and stories of the participants. However, this process would have presented some constraints in the form of more time consumption. This is not to deny the fact that the return rate would have been higher in terms of the direct information data collected from the participants. This is unlike the collection of data through questionnaire where there is possibility of some questions remaining unanswered, which means the return rate would have been lower (Brown & Swan, 2001).

Unfortunately, I was unable to carry out the face-to-face interview as the participants became overwhelmed during the COVID 19 pandemic. It is unimaginable how the pandemic has affected the well-being of each and every individual. There cannot be any comparison of such experiences, but for those without income protection, the experience must be extremely intense. For instance, the pandemic has exposed the society to a widening gap in mental well-being arising from the increasing socio-economic gap between immigrants and the native-born working men, during the lockdowns. If only there was income protection, employment disruption would not have necessarily hurt anyone. However, for immigrants without income protection, the disruption has caused work hour reduction or to no-work scenario causing psychological costs in the form of greater mental suffering (Shen & Bartram, 2021).

As a result, the research method changed to only collecting and analysing secondary data by undertaking a systematic literature review in order to find to answer the main specific research question (Green, et al., 2011, p. 6). As a result, I had to only limit its research design to collecting secondary data through literature review by conducting an online-based research mainly using Google Scholars and Google Books. Thus, the research method focused on commentaries, opinions and findings of study of scholars in order to understand the various aspects of the research subject. I have learned the use and purposes of such online database in terms of identifying, analysing and comparing the various data and information regarding the life experiences of secondary Somali immigrants, including their struggle to find their identify in the society and in the education system. Accordingly, the analysis comprised multiple variables, including experience of migration, adjusting in the new social system, struggle to identify themselves and the generation gaps between the young and the older generations. As such, the research analysis drew relationships between all such relevant research variables in answering the research question (Creswell, 2013).

While preparing the research design, the researcher should have also considered having an alternative method of collecting data and information from the participants through online questionnaire. Such questionnaire would have involved a list on open-ended questions as to the experience of adjusting to the new social and educational system. For example, the response to the open-ended questions would have enabled to understand the degree of struggles second immigrants faced while migrating and are facing to adjust their Somali identity, culture and educational value in the British society. The findings would have enabled having a glimpse of past struggles of the Somali immigrants and refugees who migrated to the UK during the late 1990s and onwards from Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands (Farah, 2012). The semi-structured interview would have enabled the researcher to validate the impact of the forced mobility of Somali secondary immigrants on their sense of identity in respect to identifying themselves as British

Most of the secondary Somali immigrants whom I have come across have similar experiences around the sense of integration in the new society and their unique identity. This has been the main theme in the narratives of such secondary Somali immigrants. This was also found in literature review as well. The research conducted a thematic analysis, for example analysis of themes such as belonging or Somali identity in order to validate the subject of the research. Hence, the researcher collected and compared people’s stories and study findings of scholars, and identified common trends based on the key messages in their stories (Bearman & Dawson, 2013). This helped find the recurrent themes, such as ‘belonging’, ‘integration’, impact of mobility on education, struggle to establish new friendship, and creating unique Somali identity. (Attride-Stirking, 2001).

The thematic analysis formed a part of the qualitative method employed in this research. This research has, therefore, adopted an inductive approach building theories, such as belonging to a new society or the perception of a unique Somali identity as revealed in the literature review (Opoku, et al., 2016). This is different from the face-to-face quantitative research design, which would have adopted deductive approach to test the theory that secondary immigrants face the issue regarding the sense of belonging in the UK (Opoku, et al., 2016). Since the area of research is subjective involving varied narratives of experiences of the Somali secondary immigrants, there were multiple aspects to the experiences, including persona identity, social identity, experiences of finding a place in the new social structure, and understanding of generation gap and its relevance to the research question. Thus, this research conducted multiple layers of evaluation and analysis (Salmons, 2015). The flexible framework of such qualitative method allowed analysing multiple factors that influence the experiences of secondary Somali immigrants (Opoku, et al., 2016).

Ethical Approach

I was a secondary immigrant and as a result understand the degree of sensitivity attached to the research question. The research question is personal to the researcher and reading, researching and analysing about life experiences and Somali identity in the British society evoked a deep sense of introspect in the researcher. The experience of secondary mobility and struggle to build a sense of belonging in a new country is not an insensitive topic. Because of these aspects, the researcher had an initial discussion with the supervisor regarding the approach and the level of sensitive care needed to approach the research question. That discussion brought about a clearer approach towards the manner in which the research was to be conducted in terms of the ethical principles.

The subject of my research is sensitive to a certain extent as forced migration may have been traumatic to the secondary immigrants. As such, ethics occupies a core necessity and due consideration must be given even when the research method is changed. It was therefore necessary to maintaining confidentiality and taking consent from participants. The researcher designed the interview process to adhere to an understanding and sympathetic behaviour towards the participants, which includes not disclosing personal opinions of the researcher (Love & Pole, 2012). The sensitivity of the research question required for adhering to the main ethical process of maintaining confidentiality and privacy of the interview and the information that would be shared (Lavrakas, 2008). The interview design included a range of resources and other information sheet for the participants to encourage them to participate and make informed decision. The amount of time stipulated for each interview was to allow sufficient and comfortable time for participants to share their experiences. The information sheet contained all necessary information guiding the participants about the steps that would be involved in the interview. It provided guideline information about recording requirement, consent to the interview, and use of the information provided by the participants. To adhere to necessary ethical consideration, information was provided in the sheet that all private, confidential information would remain so, and the researcher would take all necessary precaution and security measures.

The intended research designed were meant to give me an objective view to the research question and objective. The intended participants got overwhelmed before the start of the interview process with the COVD 19 pandemic contributing to this. The research could not be carried out by myself as a researcher I had to maintain the participant’s wishes. The ethical consideration of confidentiality while designing this research holds until the end of this research and hence, the researcher did not pursue this part of the research.

The researcher realised that adhering to ethical consideration is not merely following the process required to maintain ethics in a research. It requires more than a process-oriented approach. The ethical consideration requires that research must have understanding and be sympathetic towards the participants (Saleh, 2013). Thus, the process must be secondary to this consideration. The more sensitive the research subject is, the more time, encouragement and comfort the researcher must give the participants.

Evidence-based Practice

The literature review has found two sense of belonging among the Somali community. The older generation still rooted to their native land and values, but have managed to establish a community in the British society. The second-generation immigrants have developed a belonging to the British society due to being a part of such community, but are struggling to integrate into the British society and creating a unique Somali identify (Valentine, et al., 2009; Warfa, et al., 2012; Yuval-Davis, 2006). This sense of new belonging is shared by the researcher herself being a second Somali immigrant in the UK who moved to Europe in the early 90s with her family as an asylum seeker.

The sense of belonging or the struggle to establish belonging to the British society could be elaborated by the theory of Communitarian Ethics. According to this theory, ethics arises from one’s duties towards the community they are part of. It is based on a common good approach where individual choices are pre-empt relying on communal normative criteria and authorities. There is a moral dialogue to resolve differences and issues (Etzioni, 2018). The second immigrant Somalis have an emotional belonging to the Somali community, which according to Yuval-Davis and colleagues (2005) provide security arising out of being in ‘place’. The sense of being a part of the Somali community represents the choices that the community collectively choose to create a Somali culture and identity in a different country drives their belongingness for the good of themselves and the community at large.

The literature review found that secondary Somali immigrants have little knowledge about Somalia, and their native culture and roots. They are handed down second-hand information by their parents. There is a generation gap between these younger immigrants and the older immigrants. The former category of immigrants tries to form a new identity and integrating with the UK social and education system. The second category of immigrants hold the desire to go back to their homeland due to which they ensure their children are fluent in Somali and be prepared for the imagined futures (Valentine, Sporton, & Nielsen, 2009). The gap in regard to this vision is clearly seen when young Somali immigrating from other EU member state, who are skilled and professionals believe in creating their own identity (Liberatore, 2017). This reflects the Virtue Ethics theory that defines the course of action necessary to develop desired moral and internal virtues. This question shapes the kind of person one desires to be and the action one would take to achieve the outcome (Hooft, 2014). Thus, even when the forced migration caused their loss of attachment to their homeland, they identify their identity with being a Muslim (Valentine, Sporton, & Nielsen, 2009). They also became part of the emergence of the ethnic 'otherness' that unified their experiences without feeling the need to identify themselves as ‘British’.

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The literature review has found that despite the constant social negotiation by young Somali asylum seekers, they are always struggled to integrate to the new ways of life. The social demography is new to them. Their roles are defined by this new social structure. As a result, they face constant hurdles in adjusting to the new belongingness. This includes their struggle in the school system with different course content and style of teaching due to their frequent mobility (Valentine, Sporton, & Nielsen, 2009). This aspect fails the Utilitarianism theory, which provides that the possible impact of a decision on a society must be considered before making a decision (Thiroux & Krasemann, 2012). This theory focuses on the ethical decisions being made for the greatest good for the greatest number of people (Thiroux & Krasemann, 2012). The education policy made has not taken much consideration of this struggle, including the integration of parents in the education curriculum. Literature review found that the school system is overwhelmed with the diverse needs arising from diverse ethnic cultures and demands. As such, an in-depth analysis is needed to come up with a practical policy measure. This measure will weigh the possible benefits and possible risks and will justifiably promote the greatest possible happiness of the greatest number of people in the society (Bentham, 1982). On the other hand, the creation of a distinct Somali identity different from the British is an example of how the community at large has managed to take decisions that have impacted the community at large. The established culture and normative practices in the Somali community is a symbol of greatest good for the greatest number of people.

The literature review proved beneficial in identifying a recurring theme through studying various empirical-study-based findings. It has found that the theme of Somali identity, the desire of returning to homeland, the need to create a distinct Somali identity in the UK, and the adverse experience of struggle in the school system. The literature review finding reflects a conflicting sense in Somali secondary immigrant. On one hand, they lack understanding of attachment to their homeland due to their forced mobility at young age. On the other hand, they desire to integrate and retain their distinct Somali identity in the UK social system but are facing challenges in the form of lack of appropriate social and education support.

Conclusion

As an insider researcher, this research has enabled me to discover and explore particular issues in relation to the research question around my own family. The research findings have a significant impact even in myself developing it, in addition to that it is also an excellent piece of research which provides an opportunity to give voice to hidden stories and needs of those who have experienced traumatic experiences from the immigration. This is important because it is a cultural taboo in the Somali community to speak. The struggle arising from being immigrants cause additional responsibility to find place in the society in terms of survival and integration. In such circumstances, expressing one’s feeling takes a secondary place.

The initial approach of conducting face-to-face interview was an extension of the researcher’s opportunity to give a voice and representation of the struggles and experiences of secondary immigrants. The researcher had a very positive expectation out of this interview. However, it did not come out as expected by the researcher as well as the supervisor’ expectation on the researcher regarding the significance of this research. However, the secondary data-based research adopted has found valuable findings. The underlying message is that every person has to choose the right decision towards the common good of the larger community, which is both Somali community and the British community at large. This sums up the initial understanding at the time of discussing this research project and also the whole purpose of this research.

This research is subjective in nature and therefore a higher level of understanding and empathy was required. Thus, given the higher level of stress everyone is coping during this pandemic, it was necessary to give priority to the desire of the participants and myself. The key point is to respect the wishes of the participants, who are inherently under an indemonstrable pressure of coping with challenges being a secondary immigrant. However, this research adopted a qualitative review focussed on the empirical-based findings relevant with the research question with the aim to recommend certain social and education policy measure.

Forced mobility will always push a person to the struggle of maintaining their identity in the new social narrative. At the same time, they will always attempt to establish a community defined by their shared values and cultures to develop a sense of security and attachment. This constant struggle will also bring about a sense of belonging to the new social structure. This has happened with the Somali immigrants. The primary immigrants (the parents) gave constant and significant attention to the events happening in the homeland. They have an imagined future of returning and starting their life again in their homeland. The secondary immigrants have a loss of attachment. Due to the established community in the UK, they have developed a sense of belonging where they desire and attempt to integrate in the British society. Even though, they face challenges, such as social prejudices against immigrants, racial discrimination and such other adverse experience, the desire to learn and develop their status to belong to the UK. This explains the generation gap. The social narratives and structure in the UK, the education policy and overall political system may not offer an environment to enable integration starting from the education system. The sense of ethnic otherness must be interpreted in the education and social policy system to address uniqueness of the community. As the UK has a diverse range of ethnic community, unique policy measures may not be plausible. Therefore, the policies must provide for a certain extent of self-governance involving more of community-based governance subject to the local authority. Such governance will create a community space that could integrate the parents into the policies targeting development of young Somali immigrants. The Brent council initiative mentioned earlier is a good example.

The concept of belonging must be given priority so as to build a collective awareness and decision regarding the duties and rights of the Somali community at large within the community and towards the British society at large. Examples of young skilled and professionals Somali immigrants could be set as an example for the younger lot to follow. Appropriate Somali moral and internal virtues must be inculcated in applicable policy measures. The sense of belonging must be aligned with the sense of ethnic 'otherness' as a policy measure.

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