Families left behind

Many Somali diaspora men and women are returning to Somalia by choice, leaving their families in the safety and security of Britain, but bidding farewell to their loved ones has had notable consequences to the families left behind in the UK.

(BSMG) Roseanna Looker – An increasing number of Somali diaspora men and women are returning to Somalia by choice, leaving their families in the safety and security of Britain. In taking the formidable decision to serve Somalia and bid farewell to their loved ones on the premise of deferred gratification in the future is a growing trend with notable implications for the changing face of Somali diaspora families.

At a glance one finds it most difficult to fathom why anyone would want to be intentionally separated from their loved ones. However, dig a little deeper, the issues which present themselves appear more complex. As a start, spending a great deal of time with Somali diaspora community it is apparent the pervading sense of ‘Somali Nationalism’ which manifests itself in various forms. Coupled with strong moral obligatory feelings to contribute toward the peace and reconciliation process in Somalia and further encouragement from political and social figures beckoning diaspora to bring forth their skills and western education to aid development.

On the ground, speaking with many diaspora it is clear that Somalia is their ‘long term goal’ as described by Abdilkhaliq Hussein a taxi driver from Birmingham. To be blunt, “Somalia is our home, it’s where we belong,” said Fadumo Jibril a first generation Somali mother. Interestingly I have observed strong perceptions by many diaspora that jobs are readily available in Somalia at the highest level. “They step off the plane and want to walk straight into the presidential palace,” said Omar Yusuf who left England to pursue an advisory role in the Somali Government. He claims the realities faced on the ground in Somalia are far removed from chit-chat in the Makhaayad [Somali Café].

More than an inner yearning toward the motherland it seems the nature of work opportunities available for diaspora in Somalia are attractive to many, who can impart and utilise their skills to the best of their ability. “Instead of being forced to work in a job which is not your passion,” said Osman Abdikarim – a graduate with masters degree. For many well-educated diaspora, fulfilling their ambitions in the UK is often out of reach due to the reality of institutional racism and having a lack of ‘cultural capital’.  For many, returning seems to be their only option.

Is returning as feasible at it seems? I spoke to a Somali Government worker, Abdullahi Yusuf, who said, “of course, it’s a challenge but in my new role I am actively working toward a better future for my country and myself, more so than when I was working in lower level positions in the UK. In Somalia the opportunities for diaspora are far greater and on a different scale.” It appears certain job prospects in Somalia for diaspora bring a strong sense of prestige, satisfaction and fulfilment which they are far from feeling in the UK.

Many returnees’ families are settled and adjusted to life in the UK and as my small case study indicates parents wish to maintain the safety, security and education available to their children.  I spoke with some Somali mothers whose husbands had returned to Somalia to understand how they cope. The reaction was mixed as experiences differ, for some families the period of estrangement is only for the short term and a spouse may return after a certain period of time. However, for others they simply did not know when they would see their husband again.

It seems the husband’s wish to go to Somalia is justified on the grounds of beneficial financial outcomes for all the family. “I’m happy that he got a good job, it will benefit us in the long term; the kids got school so now we can’t go with him, but when we’re ready – Inshallah – we will join him,” Maryam Abukar told me.

For many other mothers the pain of separation cuts deeper and is visible. Safia Jama said, “It’s not easy when your family is suddenly torn apart, I think our men don’t consider the consequences of how big an adjustment it is for us, wives and children.” Another mother expressed her experience of anguish and feelings of isolation without her husband and the impacts this has upon her children’s well-being and education.

As well as the emotional impacts, there is the added strain of dealing with late salary, poor communication and security concerns. “My husband sends me our rent through Dahabshiil, his salary is often late which causes me anxiety, and there is the added anxiety of his safety which sometimes keeps me awake at night,” she stressed.

In retrospect, although diaspora returnees are presented with real challenges and opportunities, it seems the impacts are felt mostly by the children and the wife who bears the brunt of a husband’s decision to pursue his ambition. The women I spoke have had to support their husband out of financial necessity. With a stark increase, in mainly diaspora men returning to live and work in Somalia whether it is for the long or short term, it is vital they take responsibility into their own hands and carefully consider the advantages and disadvantages of whether returning or staying in the UK is really beneficial to their families.


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