Gains, losses and changes : resettlement of Somali women refugees in London and Toronto
The focus of this thesis is the lives of Somali women who are resettling in London and
Toronto,, having been displaced as a result of over twenty years of conflict and
instability in Somalia. The thesis is based on fieldwork undertaken in these two urban
locations, during which time data was gathered using semi-structured interviews with
this specific group of Somali women.
Within the first three chapters (I - 3), an outline is presented of Somalia as a refugee
producing region which provides an understanding of prior experiences of violence and
trauma. These chapters help to contextualise the material presented on the basis that
prior experiences inform the resettlement choices and priorities of the women
interviewed. They situate the refugee experience within a broader migration context
whilst also drawing attention to the specific vulnerabilities and obstacles particularly
faced by women seeking asylum, obstacles which result from the perpetration of
gendered persecution and the lack of gender-specificity in the wording of the 1951
Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. These chapters also lay the foundation
for later discussion of the maintenance and renewal of concepts of 'home' and identity
which develop through new and old cultural contacts.
Based on the women's personal testimonies, the empirical chapters (4 - 8) then explore
the barriers and issues faced by Somali women in resettlement, and their successesa nd
limitations in negotiating their new environment. Consciously and unconsciously
countering stereotypes and breaking boundaries, many Somali women are able to
exercise choice and exert agency in unseen and unappreciated ways. These and other
gains experienced in Britain and Canada are balanced by losses experienced through the
lack of extended family support and increasing alienation from, and shiffing concepts
Working against a conceptualization of refugee women as victims, the thesis puts
forward evidence challenging an overarching concept of victimhood with one which
recognizes the processual and individual nature of resettlement.
As a collection of individual experiences, this research does not attempt to make
generalizations about all Somali women refugees. The testimonials do, however, allow
an analytical hypothesis to be formed which contributes valuable information on
individual's aspirations, motivations and evaluations which enrich and complement
existing knowledge of refugee resettlement.