By: Mohamed Shairf *
The Department for communities and local government has issued a report summarising the conclusions of a research made on multifaceted aspects of the Somali community in England. The study was conducted by the Change Institute.
Here are the main conclusions drawn up by the report:
The Somali Community of the UK is one of the largest and longest established in Europe with an estimated population of over 100.000. According to the Home office figures, since 2001, 50,000 Somalis have gained UK citizenship.
Somali born migrants have the lowest employment rate of all immigrants of the UK and levels of education within the community are also low, with 50 per cent having no qualifications and only 3 percent having higher education qualifications. Unemployment affects the community across the board, including men and woman, young people and adults, highly skilled professionals and trade people, as well as unskilled individuals.
Unemployment is considered to be one key factor contributing to Somali becoming caught in a cycle of depression, isolation and poverty, and ultimately turning to khat use.
Somali civil society organisations are also very localised and not networked into wider partnerships; therefore their influence does not often extend beyond their local area. One of the reasons of this is that Somali community associations are scattered all over the UK and there is no one strong voice for the Somali communities across the country. There have been two unsuccessful efforts to establish a nationwide forum, the “Somali Conference “in 1997, and the “Somali Community Meeting” in 2003 (coordinated by Jeremy Corbyn MP). This is thought to be the result of the fragmented nature of Somali communities and networks in the UK, and perhaps exacerbated by Somalis’ lack of experience of a united society, political structures and organisations in Somalia itself.
Problems facing the community collectively include high unemployment, overcrowding and housing problems, underachievement in education and exclusions from school. Many women are not currently accessing breast screening, cervical screening, dental, dietary or and other health services. Many young people are leaving home and in addition to the problem of homelessness, can end up as drug abusers or being recruited as drug dealers. Somalis above the age of 30 have greater difficulties than younger people in accessing information and advice due to language difficulties and often turn to other Somalis (who may also be ill-informed) for information and guidance.
The study indicated that there are no influential or key persons that could be considered leaders of the national level.
In the words of a community activist:
There are no particular persons or people who are influential across the UK, because the Somali community is not organised and does not have a representative body that can speak and advocate on behalf of the community.
Some of the interviewees also spoke about the leadership crises within the community which has resulted in a lack of direction for the community and a failure to develop strong partnership working amongst Somali groups, a problem which is compounded by the lack of trust between different tribes and clans.
A common complaint by Somalis was that despite the size of the Somali population in different parts of the country, the community remain largely invisible in public policy and community engagement processes. Key barriers for the Somali community in terms of engagement are a lack of information, advice and guidance on policy issues, and a lack of representation on decision making forums both locally and nationally. An additional problem identified as a barrier to engagement was that due to disillusionment with politics and a lack of information about registration, many Somali young people are probably not registering to vote, and hence are becoming more estranged from political and civic processes. These problems of participation and engagement are thought to be worsened by the perceived tendency of authorities to only involve the older and better established black and minority ethnic communities in community consultation and involvement processes.
Specific recommendations arising from community needs according to the research:
Targeted funding and capacity building support which organisation can access without having to compete with the larger South Asian and black Caribbean organisation
Improving engagement by identifying and working with those community organisations that have the capability and understanding needed to communicate and can engage equally with both local authorities and Somali communities.
Support for the development of a collective representative forum for the Somali community in the UK and for the development of stronger partnerships and networking between authorities and communities
Direct recognition of Somalis in local consultations and decision making forums without being ignored in the broader black and minority ethnic label
Educational opportunities, facilities and premises for young people
Funding and support for the establishment of Somali woman organisations
Employment training and support for all adult members of the community
* Mohamed Sharif Mohamud is a veteran Somali diplomat and analyst in the Horn of Africa and Middle East.