‘Split Loyalties: Mixed Migration and the Diaspora Connection’

Photo: © © Mikkel Ostergaard | Immigrant family in Copenhagen, Denmark.

‘Split Loyalties: Mixed Migration and the Diaspora Connection’

February 6th, 2018. Written by: Danielle Botti - Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat East Africa and Yemen

In Europe, there has been an intense focus on mixed migration in light of the significant number of people using the Eastern Mediterranean and Central Mediterranean routes to reach Greece and Italy respectively – mostly as a springboard for onward movement into central and northern Europe. A total of 362,376 individuals were recorded as arriving irregularly in Europe in 2016. With first time asylum applications in Europe totalling 1.2 million in 2016 and 429,345 in 2017 to date, there is much to suggest hundreds of thousands more entered Europe unrecorded or clandestinely.

The relationship between diasporas and irregular migrants is poorly understood, with little research and understanding of how diaspora perceive and influence irregular migration. This paper attempts to address the gap by exploring the linkages between the Somali and Afghan diasporas in Denmark and irregular migrants from Somalia and Afghanistan. It focuses on better understanding the attitudes of diasporas toward irregular migration, and on identifying the variety of roles played by diasporas (financial, social, and other) in the process of mixed migration movements, before departure, during the journey, and upon arrival. It concludes with some suggestions for the future roles of diasporas in policy development and practical programming to improve the protection context for people on the move in irregular, mixed flows.

A new RMMS discussion paper ‘Split Loyalities: Mixed Migration and the Diaspora Connection’ examines the links between Somali and Afghan diaspora located in Denmark to mixed migration flows. Somalia and Afghanistan represent two of the most protracted and largest displacements of the modern era, with over 1 million displaced Somalis and 2.5 million displaced Afghans, according to UNHCR. Although Denmark is not among the top hosting countries for either of these populations, it has sizable and relatively long-standing Somali and Afghan diaspora communities. Currently over 18,000 Afghans and over 21,000 Somalis reside in Denmark, including the first generation of descendants. Both communities consist predominantly of those who have achieved refugee status, and although both communities have received significant social support, there are also barriers to integration including discrimination, negative media, challenges in finding jobs and challenges overcoming language barriers.

There is evidence from a number of sources that diasporas interact with migrants before and during the journey, as well as upon arrival. The precise nature of these interactions and how they differ between migration flows and between diasporas of the same origin living in different countries of residence remains largely unexamined. Furthermore, how they specifically affect diaspora perceptions and migrant decisions is still also unclear.

The findings of this report are based on 12 focus group discussions (FGDs) with Afghan and Somali diaspora members in Denmark, discussing their views on current irregular migration flows to Europe.

Summary and Key Findings

The paper focuses on two countries of origin: Afghanistan and Somalia. These countries were chosen for five reasons: (1) Both countries are affected by chronic, long term conflict. In both countries, the critical drivers of displacement and migration – lack of personal and political security and lack of livelihoods opportunity– are prevalent. (2) The flows of irregular migrants from both countries continue to be significant. Recognising the link between internal displacement, refugee movements and other forms of onward movement including irregular migration, Afghans and Somalis have undertaken journeys to reach third countries for many years. (3) Due both to the long-standing (over 20 years) flows of irregular migrants from these countries into Europe, and to the strong cultural identity of each community, both Afghans and Somalis have strong diaspora networks within Europe, and these networks interact regularly with those who are considering migrating or who have already started the journey. (4) Somali and Afghan diaspora have similar linkages with Denmark. Each diaspora group has relatively long history in Denmark (over 15 years), the size of the diaspora communities is significant, with over 21,000 Somalis and over 18,000 Afghans,  living in Denmark, and Somalis and Afghans face similar integration opportunities and challenges. (5) Through its Diaspora Programme, DRC has built a solid relationship with the Afghan and Somali diasporas in Denmark; enabling this in-depth qualitative study towards an improved understanding of the dynamics within the respective diasporas. In this sense, DRC has invested in developing the necessary long-term relationships with the diasporas; a precondition to build a meaningful collaboration and to foster and encourage information-sharing between DRC and the Afghan and Somali diasporas.

Key findings of the study indicate:

  • Conflicting attitudes: Afghan and Somali diaspora participants in this research report conflicting attitudes toward the more recent trends of migrant individuals and communities arriving through irregular channels. On the one hand, diasporas acknowledge and have strong sympathy for the conditions in the home country of irregular migrants, but on the other hand, there is distrust toward new arrivals and concern about their background. These conflicting attitudes affect interaction between diasporas and new arrivals.
  • The threat of new arrivals: The perception that new arrivals may pose a threat – particularly that they may generate more racism or more tension with the overall Danish community – may have an effect on the two diaspora’s attitudes toward new arrivals.
  • Pre-travel contact between irregular migrants and diaspora: The role of diasporas in providing information to potential irregular migrants is generally assumed to be strong, and it is presumed that links between diasporas and those residing in the country of origin theoretically generate conversations about routes, risks and experiences. However, the qualitative data collected through this research, though small in scale and thus only indicative, points towards precisely the opposite. Communication between established diasporas and people considering to move irregularly or being already on the move is characterized by two dynamics:
    • There is limited communication about what is involved in migrating before the migration journey starts, despite any ongoing communication about other matters between diaspora and potential irregular migrants. The main source of information for potential migrants are smugglers, and diasporas believe that smugglers try to limit access to information from other sources;
    • Diaspora messages about difficult conditions in Europe are not considered reliable by migrants, and are contradicted by the more positive images often related by more recent arrivals.
  • Financing migration: The attitude of most respondents, across both Afghans and Somalis, concerning the provision of financial support for migration was clear – they would not support irregular migrants before departure, but would pay under extreme circumstances, often when their kinsmen were in physical / mortal danger while en route.
    • According to FGD respondents, the attitude of the diasporas – that financial support will only be made available under duress – has been instrumentalised by smugglers. Smugglers ensure that diaspora members are only contacted when the migrant’s condition is dire, to ensure that they get the most out of this contact.
  • The pressure of obligations: Respondents experience a dilemma in their relations with irregular migrants. They perceive it as their responsibility to inform about the risks along the route, but they feel they are not considered to be credible sources of information, based on perceptions of them already having achieved security through successful migration, but now warning others not to migrate. Respondent diasporas also considered that migrants on the move don’t take their advice seriously because the diasporas no longer have an accurate picture/memory of the insecurity in their home countries. Similarly, in terms of cultural, family and community obligations, diaspora members participating in this survey perceive that it is not their role to financially support movement, but they are compelled to do so both by social pressure and also by a sense of moral and humanitarian obligations.
  • The role of diasporas in influencing migration: Despite above findings on communication and the limitations hereof, diasporas do consider that they have a role in preventing abuses en route, informing about (the risks of) irregular migration and improving the protection environment for irregular migrants. They have practical recommendations for how to assist in programming and how to contribute to informed migration decisions.

The paper is based on a literature review and on FGDs conducted in Denmark with members of the Afghan and Somali diaspora. Fifty people participated in 12 FGDs (27 Somalis in 6 FGDs and 23 Afghans in 6 FGDs) of which 28 participants were female and 22 were male. Due to the limited sample size, potential sample bias and contextual and policy factors, the results of this primary research should only be considered as indicative; they should provide suggestions for future research.

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