Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

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Socio-Economic Participation of Somali Refugees in the Netherlands, Transnational Networks and Boundary Spanning

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In this article we analyse the socio-economic participation of Somali refugees in the Netherlands. Unemployment is higher among Somalis than any other refugee or immigrant group in the Netherlands and they face many obstacles when it comes to social and economic participation. At the same time, they are known for having a strong transnational orientation. We were interested to learn whether and, if so, how Somalis use their transnational networks to overcome obstacles on the Dutch labour market and how boundaries around formal labour markets are negotiated in order to access employment and to participate. We did so by focusing on two strategies employed to participate, namely through Somali organizations in the Netherlands and elsewhere, and by Somalis moving to the UK. In doing so, we looked at Somalis’ ability to span boundaries to create opportunities. The concept of transnational networks is helpful in understanding Somalis’ daily realities, but conceptually it does not seem to fit entirely as these networks usually only refer to connections with the ‘homeland.’ We argue that Somalis’ boundary-spanning activities move beyond national levels and involve various scales, sites, and settings. The data we refer to are derived from focus group discussions with 66 Somali people in Amsterdam and 20 interviews with experts who work with the Somali community in the Netherlands. These discussions and interviews were held in 2013–14. We also draw on 20 interviews with Somali organizations in the Netherlands about their transnational orientation, which were conducted between 2010 and 2013 in the context of another research project.

Keywords:  boundary spanning; socio-economic participation; Somalis; transnational networks



© Ilse van Liempt, Gery Nijenhuis. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.