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|Meet Somalis In The UK|
By Mohamed Mukhtar Ibrahim, London
Somalis are the poorest and newest community in Britain. Somalis made up the largest number of refugee applicants in the UK last year. They are the highest unemployed community in this country. It seems that there just aren't enough negative superlatives left to describe Somalis.
But when a fact is skewed, it is a travesty of professional journalism and it is bound to create tension. A classic example from some of the press is “Somalis are crooks and beggars”.
Another one portrayed Somalis as “hostile, aggressive and suspicious, and antagonistic to any outsider”. “Somalis eat donkeys” has been reported as fact rather than parody. Some even have insinuated that Somalis do not respect the law of the land. Khat – a flowering shrub chewed by Somalis – did not go unnoticed “Somali men spend their time in a stupor as a result of chewing the khat leaves”.
However, if you scrutinize the above comments you will discern on one hand that there is a weak community, which is truly trying to reconcile its way of life and the British way of life while preserving its culture and on the other hand a section of the media that is less charitable to new comers. Dr Jo Arthur, lecturer in English language, said “The Somali community has known a lot of hardship, as victims of conflict in Somalia and now as refugees in Britain”. Therefore, it is unwise to accept such sheer criticism without caution and it is very much possible that you know differently. Let us examine closely what Somalis are pointed the finger at. First, Somalis are said that they actively do “asylum shop” for welfare benefits, but do those who deal with Somalis on this matter agree with this claim? Kathy Summerton, of Leicester's Children and Families Duty and Assessment Service, said "I haven't seen or heard anything that indicates this is about benefit shopping. The families are a new community with resources, including lawyers, teachers and social workers. They're saying: 'We don't want a hand out, but a hand up,' but they are being left in limbo”.
Moreover, Somalis are accused of begging. However Mike Gapes MP, of Ilford South, said, “I have never seen a Somali begging. Somalis do not stand at traffic lights on the north circular road with dolls or babies under their arms and intimidate motorists for money. They do not go round door to door knocking to ask for money from my constituents. That is done by organized gangs of criminals who are not asylum seekers”.
Furthermore, it is reported that Somalis make up the largest asylum seekers in the country. Let the facts speak for themselves. Former Home Office Minister, Beverley Hughes, said “We know that a significant proportion of asylum seekers claiming to be Somali are actually from neighboring east African countries". This shows that there are individuals from different nationalities who want to misuse the name of Somalis even though there are a large number of genuine asylum seekers from Somali who have good grounds to claim asylum as the Somali civil war is still raging. For example, in 2002, according to the Home Office, the largest number of asylum seekers came from Iraq, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and Somalia. Isn’t it obvious that there is connection between the situation in these countries and their people who seek refuge in the UK?
Look ahead. If you do not know much about Somalis let me take this opportunity to introduce the Somalis. “Sirs meet Somalis”.
For proper introduction, it seems increasingly reasonable, and, in the circumstances, important to look back the history of Somalis. I will not bore you endless historical notes but give you Somali snapshot of history. Britain’s interest in the Somali area started as early as 1840s because Somalia provided the British with the resources that enabled it to safeguard its lucrative trade routes through the Red Sea. As a result of that Somali ended up at the theatre of colonial competition. After the scramble for Africa, Somali was divided into five spheres of influence and remained in the hands of imperial powers until 1960. Somali experienced a short-lived democracy between its independence and 1969, then a military junta regime came to power which reigned until 1990 and a civil war enveloped the country ever since.
Enough history lessons. What does a new community need to do in order to assimilate and integrate with the wider community? David Goodhart's writes, in his essay ‘Discomfort of strangers’, “Immigrants who plan to stay should be encouraged to become Britons as far as that is compatible with holding on to some core aspects of their own culture. In return for learning the language, getting a job and paying taxes, and abiding by the laws and norms of the host society, immigrants must be given a stake in the system and incentives to become good citizens”. So let us use this as a yardstick to see and measure how Somalis are doing. But before that it is always important to keep in mind that the road to integration is strewn with many obstacles.
Somalis do appreciate and acknowledge the support that they receive from the wider community especially how they are enabled to keep in touch with their culture. In return, Somalis try to contribute to the country as much as they can. Somalis are filling into the socio-economic area quitted by the Asians who are progressing up the economic ladder and gaining wealth and power. You will see Somalis working factories, driving buses, learning English, doing minicab, running small businesses, supporting Arsenal, Manchester United and of course Chelsea, and even reporting from Iraq.
In terms of crime, the Somali community is not perfect and you are likely to see a Somali youngster snatching a mobile like any other teenager or an open-faced Somali man driving a car illegally but there is no single Somali person that has been charged with any terrorist act.
It is worth noting that Somalis have had enough difficulties on their plate as many of them have witnessed widespread killings, displacement and destruction and they are gallantly trying to resettle here. A report recently published by London Borough of Camden concludes, “The Somali community shares a number of difficulties with other first-generation immigrant/refugee communities, though these are doubtless compounded by the circumstances of civil war and state disintegration that triggered involuntary migration”.
With this background it is not strange that Somalis are having difficult to compete with other much-established communities in this country. Eddie Playfair the principal of Regent College has said, "My experience is that this is a highly inspirational community which despite them facing serious economic, social and linguistic barriers to progress in the short term has the potential to make an enormous positive contribution".
But when media coverage is inaccurate, misleading or unfair, it annihilates the community cohesion strategy that the government is undertaking. It is relief to know that at the end of last year that the Press Complaints Commission issued a guidance note to editors forewarning of "the danger that inaccurate, misleading or distorted reporting may generate an atmosphere of fear and hostility that is not borne out by the facts”. PressWise Trust and UNHCR absolutely deserve to be congratulated on clarifying reporting asylum and refugees issues.