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Along migration trajectories: playing with legal status and recomposing identities

Morgann Barbara Pernot

Research Framework: Since 2015 and Yemen’s entry into the war, labour migration of Yemeni men to Djibouti has given way to multicausal migrations, particularly family migrations. This plurality of migratory paths is accompanied by a diversification of legal statuses within these families.

Objectives: By looking at the migratory trajectories of women and men over several generations, before and after the war, this article aims to understand how migrants’ relationships to legal status are constructed. It also aims to study the identity effects of these differences in status.

Methodology: The article is based on the study of migration trajectories collected during a six-month ethnography. It was conducted in Djibouti with several Yemeni families. The author carried out “observational participation”, conducted interviews and collected life stories.

Results: The migration trajectories of successive generations of Yemeni traders in Djibouti have long questioned the status of foreign workers and Djiboutian national, in terms of their material and identity implications, and the political context of the time. The new migratory trajectories of traders’ families lead to the deployment of a diversification’s strategy and accumulation of legal statuses – including access to refugee status – as well as a crystallization of the Yemeni identity.

Conclusions: Both strategic and identity-based, the relationships that migrant families maintain with legal status demonstrate their ability to act in the face of states, and political, social and economic contexts.

Contribution: Based on an original case study, this article contributes to the understanding of the transformations of migratory trajectories according to gender and generations, and to the enrichment of the knowledge of migratory strategies and their identity implications.