Abstract: On Being Black, Muslim, and a Refugee: Stories of Somalis in Chicago (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

On Being Black, Muslim, and a Refugee: Stories of Somalis in Chicago

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Liberty Ballroom O, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Ifrah Magan, PhD, Provost Faculty Fellow/Assistant Professor, New York University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: There are currently more than 68.5 million people who are forcibly displaced worldwide. Out of this number, about 25.4 million individuals are considered refugees (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 2017). According to recent United Nations data on global migration trends (2017), more than two-thirds of all refugees globally fled from only five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Somalia. Among these five countries, Somali refugees have been displaced since the late 1980s early 1990s—making them one of the largest and longstanding African refugee populations in the world. Little is known about the migration paths of these Somalis and the impact of forced migration on their racial, gender, religious, and ethnic identities.

This article aims to fill a gap in the scholarship on Somali refugees by exploring migration from an intersectional lens, thus providing insight into the ways in which multiple identities shape refugees’ experiences at various stages of the migration journey.

Methods: Fifteen in-depth interviews were conducted with Somalis who entered the United States under United Nations refugee status. Purposive sampling was utilized in the recruitment process in an effort to gather stories from a diverse sample, including individuals with experiences in refugee camps, host nations, and internal displacement within Somalia. Eligibility criteria were as follows: 1) self-identify as Somali, 2) admitted to the U.S. with refugee status, 3) living in the U.S. for a minimum of 5 years, 4) at least 18 years of age, and 5) a current resident of the study location. A total of fifteen participants were recruited including ten men and five women of ages 19 to 70 years old.

Findings: Majority of participants offered vivid accounts of the changes they experienced in their migration journey. Embracing and strengthening their identity as ‘Somali’ upon leaving their homeland, participants acquired a new identity of ‘refugee’ as they made their way through various stages of migration: host nation and/or refugee camp, and finally into the United States of America where they found a permanent settlement and home. Upon entering the United States, participants were presented with a new way of understanding racial and ethnic classification. This new classification also positioned some participants at the intersections of anti-Black, anti-Muslim, and anti-refugee racism and discrimination. By examining the various configurations of identities associated with each participant (e.g. gendered, ethnic, religious, and racial), we can conclude that their migration experiences varied even as they overlapped by virtue of their intersectionality. Findings illustrated that experiences of racism and discrimination were not only at the micro level (one-on-one encounters), but also at meso and macro levels (systemic).

Conclusion and Implications: Findings illustrate the complexities associated with the Somali refugee narrative—and how this population is often positioned at the intersections of anti-Black, anti-Muslim, and anti-refugee racism and discrimination in the United States. As Somali migration continues to increase globally, it is imperative to examine the ways in which intersectional identities impact their lived experiences at various stages of migration.