Humans have an inborn tendency to understand who they are in order to feel recognized and they define their identity based on race, ethnicity, profession, gender, nationality, etc. The Knowledge of “who we are,” and “where we come from” are, perhaps, essential to understand ‘where we belong’ on the sociological map. Dr. Kenneth Acha observes that the need for identity, esteem, respect, and recognition is among the fundamental human needs. When you step outside of your home country one of the most commonly asked questions is “where are you from?”
Presently, we live in a global world divided by nation-states where belonging to a particular nation-state or being a citizen is considered necessary and where stateless people are highly susceptible to institutional discrimination, arbitrary detention, and a variety of human rights violations. It is commonly assumed that everyone naturally knows where they belong. But, Is the knowledge of belonging so common? What about the people with no nationality? What about the people who hold no official documents or proof of identity? There are groups of people spread all over the world who do not have a clear sense of belonging or a national identity. There are refugees who were forced to migrate and cross boundaries and do not have citizenship either in their country of origin or in the host country. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees statistics estimates that global forced displacement has reached 103 million in mid-2022 and approximately 4.3 million stateless people are residing in 95 countries. While some ill-fated people are born stateless (Palestinians being born stateless) others become stateless through circumstances they deal with such as deliberate policies by states to strip people of nationality. Do these stateless people have any sense of belonging to any part of the world?
Among the huge globally displaced population are hundreds of thousands of Somalis who have fled politically fragile Somalia in the wake of civil unrest, increasing violence, crime, violence, and war-stricken poverty. Today, according to the UNHCR, there are “more than 836,300 Somali refugees and asylum seekers worldwide, more than 33,600 refugees and asylum seekers inside the country, and nearly 3 million people internally displaced across Somalia. About 80 percent of Somali refugees are living in neighboring countries Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen, and Uganda.” The Somali refugee crisis is an alarming challenge of mass displacement today. Somalia is located in Eastern Africa, bordering Ethiopia in the “Horn of Africa” region. Over the last three decades, the nation of Somalia is dealing with several problems comprising of war, civil unrest, increasing internal conflicts, and tensions along with a combination of cyclical climate events such as drought, flooding, and locust infestations. The ‘Horn of Africa’ region is facing a severe drought after the poor rainfall patterns and changing climatic conditions. The drought affected refugees, Internally displaced people, as well as their host communities, primarily in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. This all leads to the displacement of many Somali people and the majority of these migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced persons live at a major risk of human rights violations such as abuse, sexual assault, violence, forced eviction, and limited access to the basic necessities.
Countries like Somalia, where people have been experiencing harsh political, economic, and climatic situations for the last three decades, where the majority of its people are migrating and are living as refugees, might find it difficult to understand their national belonging. They might find themselves in a constant battle between the identity they leave behind and the one that lies in front of them. In this perpetual negotiation between their new and old identities, their sense of belonging might be tormented. The sense of national identity among Somalis, much like any other population, is formally as well as culturally constructed based on the stories, traditions, and values passed from one generation to the next, etc. Usually while crossing the boundaries in urgency, refugees leave behind their documents which leads to a lack of identity proof. Refugees leave behind their homes, their jobs, their valuables, the familiarity of daily life, and often their families which might create internal conflicts of identity for an individual.
Somalis have been displaced for generations now, and many Somali children have been born in refugee camps. Some second-generation Somali refugees have resettled in developed nations. Identity conflict is further apparent in refugee children. Second-generation refugees are torn betwixt their parents’ culture, traditions, and stories from their parent's homeland which they haven’t experienced directly, and the culture they have experienced and grown up in. This constant to and fro oscillation between two different cultures leads to biculturalism and might produce the feeling of being from nowhere and both places at the same time. They are often seen as outsiders, coming from far away land, by host country members and never truly gets accepted as a ‘local’ in the environment they are born and brought up in which might cause a deprived sense of belonging. Coming from a refugee background, they cannot go back to their country of origin to claim their nationality, and obtaining citizenship in the host nation is difficult for them owing to various restrictions implemented by host nations.
The refugee diaspora lives in the threat of being cast out of the host country at any moment with no place to go. Their identity is considered inferior, and illegitimate which leads to an identity crisis hence, the refugee crisis is also an identity crisis. Refugee identities are complicated and tangled based on beliefs, values, ethnic and cultural traditions as well as displacement, resettlement practices, forced migrant policies, and the political scenario of the new host country and gradually, refugees go through a complex process of identity reformulation as a consequence of displacement. Refugees also deal with the new title of being a ‘refugee,’ an element that they previously did not have to consider while living in their country of origin, which influences the process of identity restructuring.
Getting citizenship in the host country is not just about obtaining a document for the refugee population, it is also an assurance that they belong somewhere. Policies for refugees and immigrants in the host country direct the fate of refugees and are a way forward to a better future for them. For instance, newly established laws and agreements (in Ethiopia) are permitting Somali refugees to have a livelihood and to better integrate with their local communities.