Europe turns their back on the Somali refugees

The Somalis is the biggest group of refugees in need of resettlement. However, most EU countries are reluctant to resettle especially this ethnical group. Many EU countries have labeled Somalis difficult to integrate even though they do well in USA and the UK.

By Casper Eicke and Felix Østergaard

It’s early in the day and the Danish Somali community center in Aarhus is quiet. Two men are watching an animal program on TV while preparing for the next prayer. In the evening the place will be packed with kids and young people watching the decisive Champions League match between the Danish team, FC Copenhagen, and the Spanish giants from Real Madrid.

One of the volunteers in the community, is Abdirahman Iidle who had never engaged in communities before coming to Denmark. Now he is a spokesperson for the Danish Somali community and views their role as a key contributor in the integration of Somalis in Denmark.

Somali refugees have been a top priority for the UNHCR for the past many years. Despite this fact, Denmark has only resettled 8 Somalis a year on average between the years 2008 and 2011.

Abdirahman Iidle says it is “a big shame” that Denmark doesn’t resettle more Somalis. Not just Denmark, but most European countries turn their thumb down to refugees from Somalia, labelling them difficult to integrate. Between 2007 and 2009 EU Members States accepted only 2 percent of all Somali cases submitted by the UN High Commission for Refugees.

After Abdirahman Iidle came to Denmark he has been very engaged in the Danish-Somali communities. Here he is holding a sign saying ” Somali youth and Parent Council”

Left without prospects

691.000 refugees are in such a bad situation that they are considered in need of resettlement by the UNHCR. Out of them, 272.000 are from East & Horn of Africa, which mostly consists of Somalis. That makes them the world’s largest group of refugees in need of resettlement. That is not taking into account the massive amount of Syrian refugees as they are being considered a special case by the UNHCR.

Somali refugees don’t have the characteristics that make people appear to be easily integrated, because many have been stuck in refugee camps for 10-20 years without the possibility of a productive occupation.

The longer they are in the camps, the less are their chances of being resettled in a country with integration potential criteria.  And if they don’t get resettled, more refugees with even less of a chance will come.

“The Somalis are left without prospects and the longer it goes on, the more true it becomes.

Somebody needs to break out of that circle, “ says Kathleen Newland, co-founder and head of refugee resettlement program at Migration Policy Institute, an international think tank dedicated to the study of the movement of people worldwide.

Integration through education

In the Danish-Somali community center in Aarhus kids come during the daytime to get help from volunteers with their homework. Many of the parents aren’t able to provide that help due to the years or decades spent in refugee camps.

When their homework is done they can go to the gaming room and enjoy a game of foosball, pool or ping-pong. The community center is located in a grey concrete basement but they have facilities to make up for the uninspiring surroundings.

Abdirahman Idle is 46 years old and from Somalia. He works as a bilingual teacher and is a member of the immigration council in the Aarhus municipality. He is also the spokesperson of AarhusSomali – a Danish-Somalian community organizing 13 smaller Danish-Somalian communities within Aarhus.  Watch the video and come inside the Danish-Somali community center where Iidle tells how volunteers help improving the integration of Somalis in Aarhus, Denmark.



DanishSomalis enjoy coming to the community house in Aarhus. Here they for example play pool,  drink coffe or help the kids with their homework
DanishSomalis enjoy coming to the community house in Aarhus. Here they for example play pool, drink coffe or help the kids with their homework

The more Somalis, the better integration

Due to the difficult situation for the Somali refugees, it has also been challenging for some of them integrating into several of the resettlement countries. Among them is Denmark, where Danish statistics show that Somalis hold the unfortunate record of being the ethnic group with the highest unemployment rate.

“It has indeed been noted that Somali populations have in some cases experienced more challenges in integration than other refugee groups,” says Rachel Westerby, City Coordinator at the International Catholic Migration Commission, an organization that serves refugees. Westerby is also the editor of the European guide to resettlement report made in July 2013 in cooperation with the EU.

In some countries, however, the integration of Somalis is successful. This is the case in the US, that resettles by far the biggest number of Somali refugees.

In the UK, which is one of the few European countries to resettle Somalis on a regular basis, it’s the same positive story. Especially in the Manchester area, Somalis are doing well thanks to NGO’s such as Refugee Action.

“Such success stories show that the question of individual credentials, language and skills should not be used as a criterion defining resettlement,” European Council on Refugees in Exile (ECRE) states in a report from 2011.

Bad security is no excuse

An important reason for the many Somali refugees not being resettled is the security situation in the Dadaab Camp in Kenya, where most of the Somali refugees are located. The dangers of going there makes it difficult to carry out the interviews of refugees that are necessary before resettlement.

Many Somalis not having proper identification and fraud in the resettlement process have also played a role in this context. However, these different obstacles should not be used as excuses by the European countries not to resettle more Somalis, according to ECRE.

“Countries should not use the security argument as a way out of their international obligations for refugee protection. With appropriate and efficient security screenings, more Somalis should find their way to Europe, and they already do to the United States,” ECRE writes in a report from 2011.