Somalis in the United Kingdom
115,000 (2010 ONS)
|Regions with significant populations|
|London · Liverpool · Cardiff · Birmingham · Bristol · Manchester · Sheffield · Leicester|
|Somali · Arabic · English|
Somalis in the United Kingdom include British citizens and residents born in, or with ancestors from, Somalia. It is thought that the United Kingdom is home to the largest Somali community in Europe, with 99,484 Somali-born residents of England recorded by the 2011 Census, and an estimated 115,000 Somali-born immigrants residing in the UK in 2010 according to the Office for National Statistics.
The earliest Somali immigrants in the UK were seamen and merchants who arrived in the 19th century. A second small group came during the Second World War with the Royal Navy, and stayed in search of employment. During the 1980s and 1990s, the civil war in Somalia led to a large number of Somali immigrants, comprising the majority of the current Somali population in the UK.
The Somali community represents one of the largest Muslim groups in the UK. While faced with several social challenges, community members include notable sports figures, filmmakers and local politicians. It has also established business networks and media organisations.
- 1 History and settlement
- 2 Demographics
- 3 Culture
- 4 Community
- 5 Business and enterprise
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 Sources
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
History and settlement
The UK has historically been close to Somalia, through its involvement in the British Somaliland protectorate. This link has given rise to a long tradition of Somali migration to the UK. Mobility has played an important part in Somali culture. The first Somali immigrants were seamen and merchants who settled in port cities in the late 19th century, mainly in Cardiff, Liverpool and London. Many of these early sailors came from British Somaliland and worked in the thriving docks, whilst living in boarding houses run by other Somalis.
A second, small group came during the Second World War with the Royal Navy and stayed in search of employment. Most of these seamen considered their stay in the UK as temporary and had left their families behind. Until the 1950s, Somali migrants were legally restricted to working in the shipping industry, were paid at rates 25 percent below the pay of native British workers, and forced to settle only in towns and cities that were centres of shipping. In 1953, there were about 600 Somalis living in the UK. When the British merchant navy started to wind down in the 1950s, many of these migrants moved to industrial cities such as Birmingham, Sheffield and Manchester, where labour was in great demand. By the 1960s, there were still only a few Somali women in the UK. After the expansion in British industry, Somali men brought over their wives and families. Somali women subsequently began establishing community organisations in the cities where they resided, some of which still exist to this day. In the 1960s and 1970s, Somali students from British Somaliland also came to study in the UK. Some chose to remain in Britain, while others returned to Somalia after graduating.
|Initial decisions[nb 2]|
|Year||Applications received||Granted asylum||Granted temporary protection[nb 3]||Refused|
Refugees and asylum seekers
During the 1980s and 1990s, the civil war in Somalia lead to a large number of Somali immigrants, comprising the majority of the current Somali population in the UK. During the period 1988 to 1994, the favoured destination of people fleeing the civil war was Scandinavia, but by 1999 53 percent of Somali asylum applications in Europe were made in the UK. Many of these asylum seekers had fled from neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia before migrating to the UK. Many of the refugees were not men, but women and children whose men had either been killed or had stayed in Somalia to fight, changing the Somali settlement from one of single seamen to that of refugee communities. Between 1985 and 2006, Somalis figured among the top ten largest country of origin groups of people seeking asylum in the UK. In the late 1980s, most of these early migrants were granted refugee status, while those arriving later in the 1990s more often obtained temporary status.
There has also been some secondary migration of Somalis to the UK from the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark. An academic article published in 2010 suggests that, since 2000, between 10,000 and 20,000 Somalis in the Netherlands have moved to the UK. The driving forces behind this secondary migration included: a desire to reunite with family and friends; a rise in Dutch opposition to Muslim immigration; Somali opposition to housing policies which forced them to live scattered in small groups all over various cities rather than in a larger agglomerated community; a restrictive socio-economic environment which, among other things, made it difficult for new arrivals to find work; and the comparative ease of starting a business and acquiring the means to get off social welfare in the UK. Research into this relocation also suggests that some Somali migrants in the Netherlands did not intend to end up there as a final destination. Their journeys may have been interrupted in the Netherlands, or they may have had little choice about their destination. As a result, some secondary migration can be seen in the context of the desire to complete an intended migration to the UK.
Between 1983 and 1994, the number of Somalis granted British citizenship was generally low, ranging from 40 in 1987 to 140 in 1994. However, in 1995 the number of grants of citizenship started to rise significantly, reaching a peak of 11,165 in 2004, before falling somewhat in the following years. In 2009, 8,140 Somali nationals were granted British citizenship, accounting for around four percent of all naturalisations and making Somali the sixth most common previous nationality amongst those granted citizenship that year.
Population and distribution
|Location||Somali-born population (2011 Census)||Somalis regardless of birthplace (2003–2007 estimates collated by CLG)||Somalis regardless of birthplace (2006 estimates by ICAR)|
As of 2009, the UK is believed to have the largest Somali community in Europe. The Office for National Statistics estimates that 115,000 Somali-born immigrants were resident in the UK in March 2010, with Somali community organisations putting the figure at 90,000 residents. According to the 2011 UK Census, there were 99,484 Somali-born residents in England. However, these estimates are complicated by the exchange of Somalis both arriving in the UK and those deciding to return to Somalia or elsewhere.
As with estimates of the total Somali population in the UK, estimates by city vary significantly between sources. This problem is partly the result of defining "Somali", with some sources estimating the Somali-born population only, and others estimating the size of the ethnic Somali community, including second and subsequent-generation British Somalis. The 2011 census found that 65,333 Somali-born people were resident in London. Other sources suggest that Cardiff has the highest number of people of Somali heritage anywhere in the UK, though the number of Somali-born immigrants there is low.
The Somali language is the mother tongue of the Somali people, and the official language of Somalia. It is a member of the Cushitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic family. The 2011 UK Census estimates that 86,000 or 0.2% of individuals living in England and Wales speak Somali as their main language. Some Somalis in the UK also speak Arabic, another Afro-Asiatic tongue and the other official language of Somalia, with about 15 percent of Somalis in England being completely fluent in it according to a 2006 report by the Foreign Policy Centre.
With very few exceptions, Somalis in the UK and elsewhere are Muslims, the majority belonging to the Sunni branch of Islam and the Shafi`i school of Islamic jurisprudence. Somalis constitute one of the largest Muslim groups in the UK. Mosques are the primary centres for religious and social gatherings, and also play an important role in sharing information. Traditionally, Somalis attended mosques established by the more settled Muslim communities, though there are now a small number of mosques operated by Somalis.
Prominent Somali musicians based in the UK include Aar Maanta, who produces an eclectic mix of styles blended with traditional Somali music, including the classical oud-centred Qaraami ("love songs" in Arabic) style of the 1940s. Poly Styrene (born Marianne Joan Elliott-Said), whose father was Somali, was a member of the punk rock band X-Ray Spex, and later a solo artist.
The BBC Somali Service is a radio station transmitted in the Somali language around the world. The majority of Somalis in the UK listen to the BBC Somali Service for news and information. While many listen at home via satellite radio or the Internet, others listen in groups at Somali shops, restaurants, khat houses or mosques.
Somali Eye Media is a media organisation based in London and set up in 2003 by Adam Dirir, a prominent member of the Somali community. It publishes the magazine Somali Eye quarterly, and operates Somali Voice Radio, a radio station, through Sound Radio 1503 AM. Two other UK-based Somali radio stations are Somali On Air and Nomad Radio. Bristol Community FM features a weekly chat show that is hosted by Somali Women's Voice.
There are also a few weekly and monthly Somali newspapers available in the UK in both Somali and English, including Kasmo, Jamhuuriya, and The Somali Voice. Other magazines and newspapers have failed due to poor readership figures. A 2006 survey by the International Organization for Migration suggests that Somalis in the UK prefer to read newspapers such as Metro to improve their English-language skills, although listening to radio was more popular. In 2007, five emerging Somali authors (including Adam Dirir) published Silent Voices, an anthology about Somali life in Britain.
Prominent Somali media figures in the UK include Rageh Omaar, a television news presenter and a writer, and advocate for the Somali community. He received the 2002–2003 Ethnic Multicultural Media Academy award for the best TV journalist. Omaar was formerly a BBC world affairs correspondent, where he made his name reporting on the Iraq War. In September 2006, he moved to a new post at Al Jazeera English, where he currently hosts the current-affairs programme, The Rageh Omaar Show. Yusuf Garaad Omar is a Somali journalist and head of the BBC Somali Service. Other Somali media figures include Mo Ali, a film director born in Saudi Arabia, who debuted in 2010 his feature film, Shank, set in a futuristic London. Somali-British author Nadifa Mohamed's debuting novel, Black Mamba Boy (2009), won the 2010 Betty Trask Award, and was short-listed for several awards, including the 2010 Guardian First Book Award, the 2010 Dylan Thomas Prize, and the 2010 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.
Somali athletes in the UK include Mo Farah, a long-distance runner who won the gold medals in the 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres at the 2012 London Olympic Games. Farah was born in Mogadishu but grew up in Djibouti and moved to the UK aged eight. He generally competes in the 5,000 metres event, having won his first major title at the European Athletics Junior Championships in 2001. Farah also competes in cross-country running, where in December 2006, he became European champion in Italy. He holds the British indoor record in the 3000 metres. In 2010, Farah earned Great Britain its first ever gold medal in the 10,000 metre event at the European Athletics Championships, as well as a second gold in the 5,000 metres. Other prominent Somali athletes in the UK include footballer Abdisalam Ibrahim of Manchester City, who is the Premier League's first Somali player and first from East Africa; he represents Norway at international level.
Social issues and solutions
One of the main barriers to integration facing Somalis is language, which has an effect on housing and health conditions. The issue of youth crime and gang violence within the Somali community is often covered in the media. In response, community youth forums have been established, which work closely with law enforcement to deter vice. Women's groups have also started to form, and the Metropolitan Police recently hired its first Somali female officer. Additionally, the Somali Youth Development Resource Centre (SYDRC), a Somali community-reach organisation based in Camden, has joined forces with the Metropolitan Police's Communities Together Strategic Engagement Team to establish the London Somali Youth Forum. The initiative provides an outlet for the city's young Somalis to address security-related issues and to get engaged with the local police. The SYDRC has hired numerous youth ambassadors for the purpose, 16 of whom have been specifically trained in community engagement.
Khat is a plant that is mainly grown in East Africa and the Middle East. Its leaves are chewed for their stimulating properties, primarily by people from these regions. Within Somali culture especially, khat chewing has a long history as a social custom that traditionally brings people together to relax and to encourage conversation. Some people also use it to help them stay alert during work or school. Ordinarily, khat use would be limited to specific periods of the day and session durations. Khat itself is legal in the UK and readily available at mafrishes, commercial establishments where the substance is sold and chewed. Within the Somali community as well as other groups with khat-chewing traditions, the activity is generally perceived as legitimate and is not censured like alcohol and illegal drug use are within those same communities.
However, some commentators, health professionals and community members have expressed concerns about the long-term effects of the use of khat by Somalis in the UK, suggesting that excessive use has a negative social and health impact on the community. One review of studies of the effects of khat use by Somalis and other immigrants on their mental health suggests that there is a need for better research on khat-chewing and its possible link with psychiatric disorders; it also suggests that public discourse on the issue displays elements of a moral panic. Some Somali community organisations have also campaigned for khat to be banned. As a result of these concerns, the Home Office commissioned successive research studies to look into the matter, and in 2005, presented the question of khat's legal status before the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. After a careful review of the evidence, the expert committee recommended in January 2006 that the status of khat as a legal substance should remain for the time being.
In 2005, the Home Office issued a report on research examining the level and nature of the use of khat by Somalis in four English cities; Birmingham, Bristol, London and Sheffield. It found that 38 percent of the respondents had ever used khat in their lifetime, with 58 percent of men and only 16 percent of women reporting having ever used it. 34 percent of the overall sample indicated that they had chewed khat the month before, 51 percent of which were men and 14 percent were women. Some reported family tensions arising from their khat use. 49 percent of those surveyed were in favour of banning khat, with 35 opposed, but the report suggested that this would not be effective. Three quarters of participants who had used khat reported having suffered health effects, although these were mostly mild in nature, with the most common symptoms respondents associated with khat use being sleeping difficulties, loss of appetite, and an urge to chew more khat. The study concluded that most of the participants who were using khat were using it moderately in terms of both the quantity used and the frequency and duration of chewing sessions, and that khat use was typically a social activity. Only a small minority of the study participants' khat use was judged to be excessive. In January 2013, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs also again cited insufficient evidence that the plant caused serious health or societal problems to warrant governmental control. Nonetheless, in July 2013 it was announced that khat was to be classified as a class C drug and therefore banned.
According to reports, over 95 percent of Somali immigrants in the UK live in rental accommodation, and of this group, about 80 percent live in social housing. However, this representation is numerically very small in relation to the total number of social tenants in the UK; 72,800 of the 92,200-person Somalia-born community reside in social housing compared to 8.4 million UK-born social tenants.
Factors that account for the high uptake of social housing in the community include generally lower household incomes that make it difficult to buy property; a preference for living in London, where property prices are higher and there are proportionately more social tenants from all communities; and a high proportion of new arrivals in the Somali community, with newcomers least likely to have gathered the savings that are required to buy property. Another contributing factor is the proportionately larger family sizes for which to find affordable and appropriate accommodation; about 10.8 per cent of Somalia-born households have five or more children as compared to 0.3 per cent of the UK-born population. Foreign-born populations in general tend to have larger families than the UK-born average.
Most Somalia-born immigrants are eligible for social housing, as they have either refugee status, settled status or UK or EEA citizenship. Social housing and support for asylum seekers is allocated by the UK Border Agency (UKBA), and expires after an asylum claim has been processed.
Levels of completed education within the Somali community are generally high. According to a 2002 study by the Africa Education Trust and London Learning and Skills Council, which interviewed 356 individuals (of which 23 percent were Somalis) from the five largest refugee and asylum seeker communities in the boroughs of Barnet, Enfield, Haringey and Waltham Forest, around 21 percent of Somalis had university degrees. This was the highest proportion among the sampled immigrant groups. Another 46 percent of Somalis had completed secondary school, 20 percent had an A level equivalent, 10 percent had finished primary school, 2 percent had entered but not completed university, and 1 percent had no prior education. With regard to education and training undertaken in the UK, a total of 88 percent of Somalis had followed such courses, the highest proportion among the sampled ethnic groups. Of those, 24 percent were ESOL classes, 24 percent A level, 21 percent FE, 6 percent university degrees, 6 percent secondary courses, 4 percent community courses, 2 percent Masters degrees, and 1 percent basic skills training.
Somali-born migrants have the lowest employment rate among all immigrants in the UK. Figures published by the Office for National Statistics show high rates of economic inactivity and unemployment amongst Somali immigrants. In the three months to June 2008, 31.4 percent of Somali men and 84.2 percent of Somali women were economically inactive (the statistics include students, carers and the long-term sick, injured or disabled in this group). Of those who were economically active, 41.4 percent of the men and 39.1 percent of the women were unemployed. Employment rates were 40.1 percent for men and 9.6 percent for women. The male employment rate has, however, risen from 21.5 percent in 1998.
A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research attributes the low employment rate to the newness of the Somali community and to the fact that most immigrants came in search of asylum rather than through labor migration channels. Data suggests asylum seekers in general appear to have more difficulty accessing employment. This includes many skilled professionals who, while constituting a high proportion of Somali immigrants, have not all been able to find work in their field. According to a study by the Africa Education Trust and London Learning and Skills Council, although around 20 percent of Somali refugees and asylum seekers had higher degrees compared to 12 percent of general refugees and asylum seekers, they were proportionately just as likely to be working in semi-skilled or manual labour positions than would be expected given their employment experience and education. Many have had difficulty getting the qualifications that they have gained in Somalia recognised in the UK, with only 25 percent of Somali immigrants with a professional background able to find work comparable to the positions that they previously held. Other main employment barriers included lack of references and prior work experience in the UK, unfamiliarity with the UK job culture, discrimination, over-reliance on word-of-mouth for job openings rather than employment centres and classifieds, and lack of fluency in the English language. According to the Warwickshire Police Force and a report by ELWa, asylum seekers are also not legally allowed to work for payment since the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) (now the UK Border Agency) administers their monetary benefits while their claim is being processed.
Somali community organisations exist in a number of British municipalities. Among these is the Somali Family Support Group (SFSG), a London-based NGO catering to the UK's Somali community. Founded by Hanan Ibrahim, the SFSG promotes inter-faith dialogue and understanding, and advocates for greater female participation in various issues. It also offers a variety of social services, including a family advice center, health awareness drives, job-search assistance and skill acquisition workshops.
In 2011, the Council of Somali Organisations (CSO) was established to collectively represent the Somali community institutions, to coordinate their activities, and improve their operational effectiveness.
Kayse Maxamed, editor of Somali Voice, has argued that many Somalis with British citizenship who are entitled to vote do not exercise this right, partly because of a lack of understanding of the voting registration process.
On the representative front, however, the Somali community has become increasingly engaged in local politics. Mohamed "Jimmy" Ali became the UK's first Somali councillor in 2004. The incumbent mayor of Tower Hamlets, Ahmed Omer, is originally from Somalia, the first to be appointed to office in London and the country when he assumed office in 2009. Mark Hendrick, who is partly of Somali descent, previously served as a member of the European Parliament before being elected a Labour Co-operative Member of Parliament for Preston in a by-election in 2000. Around 17 Somali candidates also stood in the 2010 local elections. Of these, at least seven Somali councillors were elected, including Gulaid Abdullah Ahmed, Abdifatah Aden, Awale Olad, and Abdul Mohamed of the Labour Party, as well as Asad Osman of the Liberal Democrats, a former chairman of the Somali Youth Development Resource Centre.
Business and enterprise
The Somali people have a strong tradition in trade, with a long history of maritime enterprise stretching back to antiquity that includes possible commerce with ancient Britons based on rare commodities such as tin. In recent times, several Somali multinational companies, such as Omar A. Ali's Integrated Property Investments Limited, with multi-million dollar projects in East Africa, and Invicta Capital, with an investment capital of £1.4 billion, have their headquarters in London. A 2008 study on immigrant business in Britain highlighted that the level of community support enjoyed by Somali traders was high in comparison to other immigrant groups. Somali enterprise has also begun replacing previously Indian-dominated business premises. Southall, for example, now features several Somali-oriented restaurants and cafés.
The Somali diaspora in the UK operates various networks, with the Somaliland Chamber of Commerce having an office locally. Another Somali business network, the Midlands Somali Business Association, a non-profit organisation centered in Birmingham, offers commercial advice to Somali businesses based in the city. It also publishes a quarterly newsletter and runs workshops and conferences for the local Somali business community. Additionally, the number of Somali businesses in the UK is increasing, ranging from restaurants, remittance companies, hairdressing salons and travel agencies to, especially, internet cafés. Although some of these businesses cater to mainstream British society, most are aimed at a Somali clientele. However, the Midlands Somali Business Association has recognised the potential benefits of penetrating the larger British business community, and is encouraging stakeholders to tap into this sector. The organisation is also exploring opportunities for transnational businesses.
Money transfer operators
Some Somali businesses with a presence in the UK, particularly in the remittance sector, already operate internationally. The latter include Dahabshiil, Qaran Express, Mustaqbal, Amal Express, Kaah Express, Hodan Global, Olympic, Amana Express, Iftin Express and Tawakal Express. Most are credentialed members of the Somali Money Transfer Association (SOMTA) (or its predecessor, the Somali Financial Services Association (SFSA)), an umbrella organisation that regulates the community's money transfer sector. The bulk of remittances are sent by Somalis to relatives in Somalia, a practice which has had a stimulating effect on that country's economy.
Dahabshiil is the largest of the Somali money transfer operators (MTO), having captured most of the market vacated by Al-Barakaat. The firm has its headquarters in London and employs more than 2000 people across 144 countries, with 130 branches in the United Kingdom alone, a further 130 branches in Somalia, and 400 branches globally, including one in Dubai. It invests 5 percent of its profits into community projects aimed at improving schools, hospitals, agriculture and sanitation services, and sponsors a number of social events, including the Somali Week Festival and the Somali Youth Sports Association, which help to promote understanding and cooperation through Somali art and culture and sport, respectively. In 2008, Dahabshiil's CEO, Abdirashid Duale, a Somali who has British citizenship, was awarded Top Manager of the Year by the International Association of Money Transfer Networks in recognition of the services the firm offers its clients. This was followed in 2010 with the Mayor of Tower Hamlets award for excellence in the community, which recognises the "outstanding contribution" Dahabshiil has made to the local, national and international Somali community over the last 40 years.
After Dahabshiil, Qaran Express is the largest Somali-owned funds transfer company. The firm has its headquarters in both London and Dubai, with 175 agents worldwide, 64 agents in London and 66 in Somalia, and charges nothing for remitting charity funds. Mustaqbal is the third most prominent Somali MTO with branches in the United Kingdom, having 49 agents in the UK and 8 agents in Somalia.
- Figures are rounded to the nearest five.
- Note that a decision is not necessarily made in the same year as the application it relates to, so decisions do not sum to the number of applications.
- Exceptional leave, humanitarian protection or discretionary leave.
- 2008 figures are provisional.
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