This paper critically evaluates the impacts of networks of ethnicity and social capital on the migration paths and settlement decision-making of refugees now living on the Pacific Coast of the US. Of particular significance are the social networks of two complex groups who relocated in large numbers to communities in central California and the Pacific Northwest over the past decade. Postmodern sensitivities to race, space and place in recent years have revalidated humanistic approaches suggested by human geographers more than two decades ago. Today, however, this earlier humanistic approach is being reshaped to centre on unravelling and analysing social and place-based relationships. Rather than viewing migration in a narrow perspective (as a process happening in a particular place at a particular fixed moment in time), human geographers have begun to use ethnographic methods to record migration processes. I build on the ideas and approaches of both the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ in this article, paying particular attention to the social relationships and networks that emerge at intersections of fluidity, fusion, motion and negotiation, to appraise their role in constantly shaping and reshaping migration processes. Copyright © 2003 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.