What can we do about the plight of British Somalians?

Britain and London especially has seen substantial immigration from African nations during the past twenty years. But if the island’s post-war years were defined by immigration from the Caribbean and the iconic Windrush Generation, the last few years have seen a stronger African influence take hold in urban areas across Britain.

As the Windrush years begin to fade and the descendants of the first generation take on British accents and a broader Black British identity, migrants from Africa and their children have come into focus. But there is one particular community that both stands out and loses out compared to other African migrants in modern Britain, the Somali community.

In 1998, an area of public open space in Brixton was renamed Windrush Square to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the ship bringing the first large group of West Indian migrants to the United Kingdom | Zleitzen~commonswiki | flickr


Compared to their other African counterparts, British-Somalis have not fared as well in Britain. Facing systematically higher rates of unemployment poverty and poor education, the statistics illustrated below are extremely shocking. Furthermore the Somali population remains Britain’s largest refugee population.

According to research conducted in 2010 and 2013, over 80% of Somali speaking school children qualify for free school meals. In the London borough of Waltham Forest, 73% live in homes reliant on benefits and the group overall remains the highest foreign born population to rent homes from the council.

Not only are the migrant generation suffering on an economic scale, their children are suffering educationally too. Only 33% achieved five good GCSE’s from 2010-2011 compared to 78% of Nigerian children. These disappointing statistics culminated in the findings of a 2011 census that stipulated that only one in ten Somalians are in full time work in the U.K.

Whilst we could put these factors down to how recent the community’s large scale migration to the United Kingdom is. Civil war broke out in Somalia in the 1990s and up to 7,495 Somalians arrived in 1999 alone. This wasn’t the first time the Somalian diaspora had made contact with the British Isles. They had done so before, and much more successfully.

What can we do about the plight of British Somalians?
Grants of British citizenship to Somali nationals | Cordless Larry | wikimedia commons


At the turn of the twentieth century when global maritime trade and the British Empire was at its zenith, Somalians were already settling in the U.K. Working as seamen, a number made the port cities of Cardiff and Liverpool their homes, and had, like their fellow sailors from other African countries at the same time, married into local communities and produced diverse multicultural societies.

So considering this, and the fact that Britain had colonial interests in Somalia from the 1880s, it seems odd that modern Somalian migration to Britain hasn’t been as economically nor socially compatible as the experience of their seaman forefathers.

Although acknowledgment must be made of the fact that modern Somalian immigration to Britain has been underpinned by the trauma and dislocation of civil war, this cannot be the only reason that such a substantial migrant community remains so disadvantaged right across the board.

So to understand the peculiar position of British Somalians, we must start with the unique discriminations they face at institutional levels. Not only are Somali individuals susceptible to the police profiling that plagues the experiences of other impoverished people of colour in the Euro-American world, their Muslim heritage also means that they are also profiled as victims of radicalisation. With this considered it can’t be denied that British Somalis must be one of the most stigmatised groups in Britain today.

It goes without saying that British Somalis tread an ambiguous and ambivalent path in multicultural Britain. And although their faith offers potential for commonality with other ethnically Muslim groups in Britain such as the Pakistani and Bengali communities, they are an isolated group in urban Britain. In this way, they are also like, yet unlike their West-African neighbours, such as Nigerians and Ghanaians who both Christian and Muslim, seem to hold a more Pan-African identity regardless of their affiliation.

British-Somalians are a group with a complex identity that requires the wider British community to take the time to understand. This may require effort made by Afro-Caribbean community groups and advocates in British cities to make British Somalians feel part of a collective Black British community. The government also needs to pay sensitive consideration to the intersecting oppressions British Somalians face as both Black and Muslim. Following this, pro-active policies have to be implemented to encourage and support British Somali youth into gaining better education and socio-economic opportunities.

Somalians have a well-documented history of integrating into Britain. But in the age of post 9/11 Islamophobia and institutionalised racism activists, groups and the government are needed to help make the British environment less hostile so this large community brimming with untapped potential can succeed.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.

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