Somali diaspora

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Somali diaspora
الشتات الصومالي
Qurbajoogta Soomaaliyeed
Flag of Somalia.svg Flag of Somaliland.svg Flag of Djibouti.svg
Total population
c. 1–1.5 million
Regions with significant populations
Arabian peninsula, Western Europe, North America, Southern Africa, Australia
 United States135,266[2]
 United Kingdom98,000[3]
 United Arab Emirates90,900[4]
 South Africa40,000[8]
 Saudi Arabia34,000[11]
 New Zealand1,617[22]
Somali (mother tongue), Arabic (co-official language of Somalia and Djibouti); various European languages (working languages)

The Somali diaspora refers to expatriate Somalis who reside in areas of the world that have traditionally not been inhabited by their ethnic group. The civil war in Somalia greatly increased the size of the Somali diaspora, as many Somalis moved from Greater Somalia primarily to the Arabian peninsula, Western Europe, North America, Southern Africa and Australia. There are also small Somali populations in other pockets of Europe and Asia.[24][25][26]

Global distribution[edit]

The distribution of Somalis abroad is uncertain, primarily due to confusion between the number of ethnic Somalis and the number of Somalia nationals. Whereas most recent Somali migrants in the diaspora emigrated as refugees and asylum seekers, many have since obtained either permanent residence or citizenship. In total, the ethnic Somali international migrant population includes an estimated 1,010,000 individuals, with around 300,000 residents in East and South Africa, 250,000 in North America, 250,000 in Europe, 200,000 in the Middle East, and 10,000 in Oceania.[27]

By comparison, the number of refugees from Somalia that are registered with the UNHCR is around 975,951 persons. The majority of these individuals were registered in Kenya (413,170), Yemen (253,876), and Ethiopia (250,988).[28] According to USAID, many of the displaced persons in these adjacent territories are Bantus and other minorities.[29]


While the distribution of Somalis per country in Europe is difficult to measure since the Somali expatriate community on the continent has grown so quickly in recent years, there are significant Somali communities in the United Kingdom: 98,000 (2016);[3] Sweden: 66,369 (2016);[5] Norway: 43,196 (2016);[7] the Netherlands: 39,465 (2016);[9] Germany: 38,675 (2016);[10] Denmark: 21,050 (2016);[13] and Finland: 20,007 (2017).[14]

United Kingdom[edit]

A Somali community center in London's East End (yellow brick building in the middle).

Although most Somalis in the United Kingdom are recent arrivals, the first Somalis to arrive were seamen and traders who settled in port cities in the late 19th century.[30][31] By 2001, the UK census reported 43,532 Somali-born residents,[32] making the Somali community in Britain the largest Somali expatriate population in Europe. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimate of 2015 indicates that 114,000 Somalis live in the UK.[33] There has also been some secondary migration of Somalis from mainland European countries to the United Kingdom.[34][35] According to the 2011 UK Census, 71.5% of Somalia-born residents in England and Wales hold a UK passport.[36]

Established Somali communities are found in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Cardiff and Bristol, and newer ones have formed in Manchester, Sheffield and Leicester.[37] The Somali population in London alone accounts for roughly 78% of Britain's Somali residents.[33]


Somalis are one of the largest ethnic minorities in Finland, and the largest group of people of non-European origin. In 2009, there were 5,570 Somali citizens, but an equal number may have received Finnish citizenship. In 2014 there were 16,721 Somali speakers in Finland.[38] According to the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, the number of Somali-speaking people in Finland in 2010 rose by nearly 10% in a year.[39]

The Netherlands[edit]

From 1989 to 1998, the Netherlands was the second-most common European destination for Somali immigrants, only slightly behind the United Kingdom and more than double the total of the next-most common destination, Denmark.[40] However, between 2000 and 2005, there was a significant outflow of Somalis from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom, unofficially estimated to be as large as 20,000 people.[41]

In 2005 according to the Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau annual report, Somalis are among the least educated and least integrated immigrants groups to the Netherlands together with Turks and Moroccans.[42] Somali pupils have the lowest participation level in secondary education of all immigrant groups to the Netherlands, with less than 1 in 5.[42]

In 2012, Somalis had the by far highest unemployment rate at 37% of the labour force and 26% of the labour force was in work, counted as at least twelve hours per week.[43] In 2015 more than half of all individuals with Somali background in the Netherlands received social welfare.[44]

North America[edit]

Salaama Hut restaurant at a Somali strip mall in Toronto.

United States[edit]

The first Somali-Americans arrived in the United States in the 1920s. They were primarily seamen and New York City was their destination. In the late 1970s, more Somali immigrants followed. Not until the 1990s when the civil war broke out in Somalia did the majority of Somalis come to the US.

The heaviest concentrations are in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul), followed by Columbus, Ohio; Atlanta, Georgia; Washington, D.C.; New York City; Buffalo, New York; Seattle; Kansas City; San Diego; Lewiston, Maine; San Francisco and Shelbyville, Tennessee;. Metro areas

As of 2004, an estimated 25,000 Somalis lived in the US state of Minnesota, with the Twin Cities home to the largest population of Somalis in North America.[45] In the city of Minneapolis, there are hundreds of Somali-owned and operated businesses. Colorful stalls inside several malls offer everything from halal meat, to stylish leather shoes, to the latest fashion for men and women, as well as gold jewelry, money transfer or hawala offices, banners advertising the latest Somali films, video stores fully stocked with nostalgic love songs not found in the mainstream supermarkets, groceries, and boutiques.[46]


Canada hosts one of the largest Somali populations in the Western world, with the 2011 National Household Survey reporting 44,995 people claiming Somali descent,[47] though an unofficial estimate placed the figure as high as 150,000 residents.[48] Somalis tend to be concentrated in the southern part of the province of Ontario, especially the Ottawa and Toronto areas. The Albertan cities of Calgary and Edmonton have also seen a significant increase in their respective Somali communities over the past five years. In addition, the neighbourhood of Rexdale in Toronto has one of the largest Somali populations in the country. Statistics Canada's 2006 Census ranks people of Somali descent as the 69th largest ethnic group in Canada.[49]

Middle East[edit]

There is a sizable Somali community in the United Arab Emirates. Somali-owned businesses line the streets of Deira, the Dubai city centre,[50] with only Iranians exporting more products from the city at large.[51] Internet cafés, hotels, coffee shops, restaurants and import-export businesses are all testimony to the Somalis' entrepreneurial spirit. Star African Air is also one of three Somali-owned airlines which are based in Dubai.[50]

Relations between the modern-day territories of Somalia and Yemen stretch back to antiquity. A number of Somali clans trace descent to the latter region.[52] During the colonial period, disgruntled Yemenis from the Hadhrami wars sought and received asylum in various Somali towns.[53] Yemen in turn unconditionally opened its borders to Somali nationals following the outbreak of the civil war in Somalia in the early 1990s.[54] In 2015, after the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, many returning Somali expatriates as well as various foreign nationals began emigrating from Yemen to northern Somalia.[55]


A Somali high school student in Cairo, Egypt.

Besides their traditional areas of inhabitation in Greater Somalia (the former Italian Somaliland, British Somaliland, French Somaliland, the Ogaden, and the Northern Frontier District), a Somali community mainly consisting of businesspeople, academics and students also exists in Egypt.[56][57]

In addition, there is an historical Somali community in the general Sudan area. Primarily concentrated in the north and Khartoum, the expatriate community mainly consists of students as well as some businesspeople.[58] More recently, Somali entrepreneurs have also established themselves in South Africa, where they provide most of the retail trade in informal settlements around the Western Cape province.[59]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shire, Saad A. Transactions with Homeland: Remittance. Bildhaan.: *N.B. Somali migrant population, Middle East including Yemen.
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  6. ^
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  59. ^ Local xenophobes still plague foreigners


  • Bjork, Stephanie R and Kusow, Abdi M, From Mogadishu to Dixon: The Somali Diaspora in a Global Context, (Africa World Free Press, 1997)

External links[edit]