Scattered Families : Transnational family life of Afghan refugees in the Netherlands in the light of the human rights based protection of the family

P.H.A.M Muller

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


    This study focuses on family life of Afghan refugees in the Netherlands, within and across borders. While family life constitutes a foundation in the lives of human beings, the disruption of the family through external causes has a huge impact on the people involved. In the case of refugees, many of these external factors - like the shocking experiences that they had before the flight, the dispersal of family-members over different countries, and the often difficult living conditions in the host country - add up to seriously distorting their family life. Not surprisingly then, the international venture for the realization of human rights has addressed the need for the protection of the family, too. However, in this study the focus is not on the legally defined rights and claims regarding family life but on the perception of the people at the grassroots: How do they construct and experience their family life? And in that respect how do they perceive the freedoms and entitlements that entail the protection they need? The research approach of the study is explorative and qualitative: over eighty interviews, follow-up interviews and informal conversations with 37 Afghan refugees in the Netherlands form the main data source. The main body of the thesis consists of five chapters. Firstly, background information is provided on the situation in Afghanistan, on Afghan refugees in neighbouring countries and in the West, and on the population of Afghan refugees in the Netherlands and the policies that apply to them. It becomes clear that Afghan refugees in the Netherlands come from a heavily fragmented society where people seek the protection of the in-group against the threats formed by outsiders. Then the focus switches from the societal level to the family level, and the process is described of how the families of these refugees became fragmented because of conflict, war, flight, and the Dutch asylum system. The fourth chapter zooms in on the level of the nuclear family life, as most respondents experienced a transformation from an extended family-life in Afghanistan to living in a nuclear family-setting or a partial nuclear family-setting in the Netherlands. It was at this level that respondents were faced with the task of integrating in the new society, which led to intra-familial transformations, tensions and negotiations. The fifth chapter describes the family-life that respondents maintained with non-co-residing family-members in the West, which was characterized by a high level of trust and comparable living conditions. These relations mainly served as a source of mutual social and cultural support. In the sixth chapter the relations with family-members who stayed behind in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran are considered, which were characterized by a structural inequality and tended to be more imbalanced at first sight. In the final chapter follows a summary of the findings, a discussion of the implications of these findings for the theoretical concepts of transnationalism, reciprocity and integration, and a formulation of the implications from an upstream human rights perspective for the protection of the family.
    Original languageUndefined/Unknown
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Utrecht University
    • de Gaay Fortman, Bas, Primary supervisor
    • de Ruijter, A., Supervisor
    • Mazzucato, V., Supervisor, External person
    Award date23 Oct 2009
    Publication statusPublished - 23 Oct 2009


    • Sociaal-culturele Wetenschappen (SOWE)

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