Transnational Somali Families in Cairo

By Sharmani, Mulki Al- | Refuge, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Transnational Somali Families in Cairo

Sharmani, Mulki Al-, Refuge


In this article, I examine how diasporic Somalis in Cairo experience being part of transnational families. I analyze two practices through which transnational family relations are maintained, experienced, and negotiated: (1) living arrangements of relatives and management of family affairs and (2) the use of the Internet and videotapes. I argue that transnational families make collective decisions about which family members live together, where, and what their family obligations should be. However, although maintaining interdependent transnational families is crucial for the survival of family members, it has its tensions and challenges because of the competing interests and dreams of individual members. I examine these tensions and how they are negotiated by family members who live together in Cairo but share resources and family obligations with relatives living elsewhere. In short, this way of being and living in which individuals and families partake as they are physically separated in different nation-states has its uneven consequences and challenges for different Somalis depending on their legal statuses, education, gender, and identity claims.


Dans cet article, j'examine la facon dont les membres de la diaspora somalienne du Caire vivent l'experience de leur appartenance a des familles transnationales. J'analyse deux pratiques par lesquelles les relations familiales transnationales sont maintenues, vecues et gerees : (i) les conditions de logement des parents proches et l'administration des affaires familiales; et (2) l'utilisation de l'Internet et des videocassettes. Je soutiens que les familles transnationales prennent des decisions collectives quant aux membres de la famille qui doivent vivre ensemble, le lieu ou ils doivent vivre et ce que doivent etres leurs obligations familiales. Cependant, malgre le fait que le maintien de familles transnationales interdependantes soit crucial pour la survie des membres de ces families, cela comporte des tensions et des defis a cause des interets divergents et des aspirations individuelles de chaque membre. J'examine ces tensions et la maniere dont ils sont geres par les membres de la famille vivant ensemble au Caire, mais partageant des ressources et des obligations familiales avec des proches parents vivant ailleurs. En bref, cette facon d'etre et de vivre ou les individus et les familles vivent en partage, tout en etant physiquement separes et eparpilles dans differents etats nations, a des consequences et presente des defis qui sont differents pour chaque Somalien selon son statut juridique, son niveau d'education, son genre et ses revendications identitaires.


with the advent of the civil war in 1991 and the collapse of the Somali state, a large number of refugees fled to Cairo from the homeland as well as from neighbouring Gulf countries. Most of those refugees and their families resettled in North America, Europe, and Australia by the mid-nineties. Since the late nineties, Cairo has attracted again a diverse group of Somali refugees from neighbouring countries such as Libya, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen as well refugees from Kenya and Somalia. Refugees who arrived from other host societies fled the homeland either in the late eighties or in the early nineties with the collapse of the state. Currently, the number of these refugees is 3,609 including recognized refugees and asylum seekers. (1) The main reasons that were given by the refugees who left other Middle Eastern countries to come to Cairo were lack of a legal residence status, fears of deportation, and experiences of harassment and racism in daily encounters with government officials, employers, and other members of host societies. Moreover, many of these refugees were attracted to Cairo because of a shared perception that the office in the city of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR) resettled many Somalis in Western countries. …

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