Social capital, social networks and refugee migration : an exploration of the livelihood strategies of Durban Congolese refugees.
This study investigates DRC refugees' economic activities in the Durban area in order to understand why some DRC refugees adapt and integrate in the local economy whereas others fail and migrate to refugee camps outside South Africa. We use various migration theories, and the concept of social exclusion to understand refugee action, and highlight the importance of social networks as a form social capital among refugees. Social networks form the cornerstone of DRC refugees' source of income through vital information sharing, financial, material and psychological support. These networks constitute a social net for newcomers and provide important support during random events such as unemployment, illness and death. However, access to the benefit of these networks is often subject to class, gender and age differentials which can have negative effects on both members and non-members. DRC refugees are subject to diverse forms of exploitative practices both from locals and from economically stable refugees including those from the Congo. Key officials and the voluntary sector play different roles at different times. These are mainly negative but are occasionally positive. These negative effects limit Congolese refugees' ability to successfully voice their concerns. Social exclusion and xenophobic attitudes from some key officials and ordinary people worsen the already precarious situation of the refugee communities. Yet, the research findings indicate that xenophobia is not something fundamental. It is fuelled by political manipulation and competition over scarce resources. Further research over time is necessary to confirm or reject this hypothesis. DRC refugees take whatever opportunities they can to establish their livelihoods and increase their resilience to shocks and uncertainty in Durban. Thus their incomes originate from different economic activities. Incomes also come from social support including remittance from other countries and provinces of South Africa, ethnic-based NGOs, political parties and churches, and manipulation from South African NGOs for individual's benefit. Yet, mistrust and social exclusion both within the DRC refugees and between this community and South Africans negatively affect their livelihoods.