Anja Simonsen

Anja Simonsen

Associate Professor

Primary fields of research

Major research interests and field studies
Somali migrants and refugees in the Horn of Africa, en route and in Europe, focusing on topics such as migration, social invisibility, mobility, Somalis, future prospects, temporality, uncertainty, clan- and family relations within and across borders, diaspora humanitarianism, European Search & Rescue operations and biometric technologies. Extended experience with multi-sited fieldwork in Ethiopia, Somaliland, Turkey, Greece and Italy.

Current research projects:
"Did you get your fingers taken?“: The Experiences of Biometrics among Somali migrants and refugees in Italy 
During fieldwork among Somali migrants in countries such as Greece or Italy, one often hears the question, ’Did you get your fingers taken?’ This question points to migrants’ worries about having their fingerprints registered biometrically and thus being stuck in particular geographical places, with extreme consequences for future livelihood possibilities. People on the move that are recognized as refugees according to the 1951 Refugee Convention have to stay in the first EU country of entry as a consequence of biometric registration and the Dublin Regulations. Due to its geographical location, Italy is often one of the first countries that migrants enter. For many refugees, getting ‘stuck’ in Italy however, means surviving by sleeping on the streets and eating free meals from Churches or other organizations providing food. This subproject asks how Somali refugees navigate in the biometric landscape of fingerprint- and other biometric modalities, and on what actually happens if they get their fingers taken?
The subproject is part of the collaborative research project Biometric Border Worlds:
Grant: VELUX Foundation (Jul. 2016 – May 2019).

The Criminalisation of Humanitarianism: From Volunteers to Human Smugglers in Italy
The aim of this postdoctoral project is to explore the criminalisation of humanitarianism, that is the effects of the recent criminalization of women and men who volunteer to conduct rescue operations at the Italian borders to save the lives of migrants trying to enter Europe. This will for an example be done by following everyday practices of volunteers from NGOs and civil society organisations active in Search and Rescue operations in Sicily, Italy and their interactions with each other, local Italians, migrants and Italian state representatives. I will analyse these data through an interdisciplinary perspective, combining migration studies, criminology and peace and conflict studies. This has not been done before and will innovate the academic field and will enable me to explore how the fight against illegal migrants entering Europe has become a fight against the work of human smugglers, legitimizing a new legal and moral order:
Grant: Carlsberg Fonden’s internationaliserings stipendium – Start: Aug.2020.

Diaspora Humanitarianism in Complex Crises (D-Hum)
Diaspora groups have emerged as key humanitarian actors in situations of protracted displacement and conflict. They are often the first to assist in acute emergencies and remain engaged during lengthy and complex crises (Au-Gener 2016; Horst et al. 2016). Their remittances reach remote areas and hard-to-reach populations, surpassing humanitarian aid sent to fragile states six times (Development Initiatives 2017:31). Despite its significance for local populations, literature on diaspora humanitarianism is only emergent and policy engagement remains hesitant. Analyzing and theorizing such assistance is therefore vital if we wish to understand the dynamics of humanitarian crises comprehensively and inform policy development:
Grant: Danish Consultative Research Committee (FFU) 

Previous research projects:
PhD: Tahriib: The Journey into the Unknown. An Ethnography of mobility, insecurities and uncertainties among Somalis en route (Feb. 2013-Feb. 2017).

The aim of this subproject is to understand the social dynamics between the expectations of a life in Europe as an investment in the future (Somaliland & Turkey) and the actual experience of a life there (Greece) as an undocumented Somali migrant. I am particularly interested in the following three research questions:

  • Which networks do undocumented Somali migrants make use of when navigating from Somaliland to Turkey and Greece and how? (Practice)
  • How do undocumented Somali migrants’ hopes and expectations as investments in a future in Greece match or not match the lived reality? (Prospects)
  • How does the family constitution of the Somalis across borders affect or not affect the expectations and the lived reality of the undocumented Somali migrants in Europe? (Position)

Part of the comparative project: Invisible Lives - A Comparative ethnography of undocumented migration, at the Department of anthropology, University of Copenhagen:
Grant: FKK 


Selected activities

  1. Forskerspirer Dag - KUA

    Simonsen, Anja (Speaker)

    12 Apr 2013

    Activity: Talk or presentation typesLecture and oral contribution

  2. Copenhagen-Somali Seminar: Practicing Art As Politics

    Simonsen, Anja (Participant)

    21 Mar 2013

    Activity: Participating in an event - typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course

  3. Undocumented migrants in Greece: health problems and access to health care - April, 2013

    Simonsen, Anja (Participant)

    17 Apr 2013

    Activity: Participating in an event - typesParticipation in workshop, seminar, course

ID: 44573219