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"Wixii qoran baa quruumo hadhee, muxuu hadal qiimo leeyahay." Somali
 
"Words fly, but scripts stay - for centuries." English
 

More than a bus pass is needed to secure employment

(BSMG – Liban Obsiye) Most asylum seekers in the UK are generally happy to receive the right to remain and live in the UK in some form or other from a very target driven Home Office, which has the dual contradictory role of protecting UK borders as well assessing individual claims for asylum. However, instead of waking up to a benefits feast at the expense of the indigenous British hardworking general population, if you read your misinformed right wing papers that is, they open their eyes confused and destitute. Where they do find employment, they are a net contributor to the UK economy and do some of the most undesirable yet necessary jobs in Britain such as cleaning. Continue reading

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Cultural explanations of Somali youth crime

What has happened to the very patriarchal culture of the Somalis? And Why the Somali youth crime has become a global issue? Or was youth crime present (as an integral part of the cultures of the host countries) long before the Somalis have settled in the West? Or has the multi-agency approach, which has not considered the importance of culture in addressing youth crime, taken by Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) contributed to the high rate crime activities — both offending and re-offending — among the Somali youth in England (and UK)?

The terms Somali and crime are becoming interchangeable in many right wing newspapers and blogs in England today. It, misleadingly, when combined with over two decades of civil war, gives the impression that the Somali culture celebrates or at least, tolerates violence and deviance.  Click here to read the full article

Diaspora political parties: Daydreaming in distant lands

Somalia; ‘Diaspora-led’ political parties : A new phenomenon constructed in the security of the Western world and by those who have very little real involvement with Somalia and its politics. It is built on arrogance, fantasy and colonial like ambition of civilising the Somali people through sudden democracy. This phenomenon I refer to is the creation of who have the desire to return home to govern their people.

From Ha Noolaato (where are they now?), Tayo and Hiil Qaran to the others I have not heard of but probably exist, there is this believe among their Diaspora leaders that they will be the ones to return peace, stability and security to Somalia. What is consistent about all of these organisations is that they are led from the comfort of the Western world and they are spearheaded by ambitious but out of touch individuals.

Continue reading

Finding their feet slowly: A look at the struggles and successes of the new and growing Somali community in the Republic of Ireland.

On my short visit to the Republic of Ireland this week I was privileged to meet members of a new and vibrant community who were working hard to set roots in this country. This new group of people were from Somalia and had come to Ireland in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

Most of the Somali people I met lived in the capital Dublin in privately rented accommodation in close proximity to each other and a few resided in the Mosney  refugee centre which is one of the largest privately run refugee camps in Europe. Many of the people I met were still awaiting the decision of their immigration claim which they collectively thought was taking “forever” and hampering their ability to support themselves. Even those that have been successful in their immigration applications were only given leave that can be extended yearly and does not give them the full refugee status which would allow them under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention to bring their families to join them. Continue reading

Somali businesses must respond to the recession effectively or close

Walking through my favourite street in East Bristol, I came across a shop that is boarded up its windows. Only a few months a go it was a booming clothes shop which specialised in traditional Somali female clothing and toiletries, but today, along with the restaurant next door and three other shops on the other side of the road, they are all vacant. Without doubt they all are victims of the deepest and longest recession the developed world has seen since the global depression of the early 20th century, but to what extent did these former business owners play a part in their own downfall?

The above appears to be a very cruel question but it is one that is extremely necessary when it comes to assessing Somali business failures in Europe and North America. Most business owners on the verge of collapse or those that have already been unfortunate say exactly the same thing: we are victims of circumstances and we did all we could to survive before the collapse. They support this argument by pointing to the existing low consumer confidence and resulting poor spending in the shops as well as high unemployment figures and the present and future job losses in both the private and public sector. It would seem from this that as a result of unforeseen circumstances their business prospects were doomed and there was absolutely nothing they could have done about it. This is totally untrue for most of them.

Recessions spare no one and only the cash rich who like to sit on their money survive generally but very few Somalis or ethnic small business owners fall in to this category. Somali business leaders are notoriously brilliant at negotiating with customers and other Somali business owners, but they are absolutely poor at negotiating with their landlords and suppliers who are not of the same nationality. In a time of recession, especially one as deep as this, it is important to retain your customers by cutting the cost of your service or products and the easiest way to do this is to negotiate the two most costly things in business: the rent and the cost of supplies.

Most landlords and suppliers are reasonable and if they are approached by a business in difficulty most would consider revising their costs, but most Somali business owners either do not negotiate or if they do are unreasonable in their offers. Because they also run and manage a business, both suppliers and landlords would prefer to keep their customers happy and on board but if they are not approached by struggling businesses owners how will they know what they need to survive? Equally, if Somali business owners negotiate aggressively and with no consideration for the losses the supplier or landlord will incur as a result, how will they expect both of these groups to be sympathetic towards them?

Too many Somali business owners are either too afraid or proud to admit that they are in trouble and re-negotiate important things like rent and their purchasing costs which could potentially save them and their livelihood from totally collapsing. If they take the initiative, summon the courage to admit they are in trouble and be reasonable in and during negotiations, they may just survive the recession. Their survival is almost guaranteed if they negotiate well as they will be able to retain their customers and secure their loyalty for the future as well as lower the cost of running their businesses.

Most successful businesses have an excellent relationship and continuous dialogue with their bank managers who now provide them with business advice, coaching as well as lend them money when needed. Most Somali business leaders have extremely poor relationships with their banks and some do not even have a business account as they use their own private accounts to store their businesses money. This is not only a very costly childish mistake, but it also dents the credibility of the business owners in the eyes of the banks they need support from. With a simple business account and on going relationship between them and their bankers, Somali businesses will not only get the advice they need but they can build a credit history which would further free capital for them to spend on their businesses in the future. This could also help to lower the cost of borrowing and accessing credit in times of business difficulty. Most banks today have Shariah compliant lending and there is no excuse for Somali businesses to be failing because of a lack of capital if they simply use the services of their banks properly and utilise the free support and advice they offer.

Many Somali businesses have shareholders because of the alternative means through which they raise the initial capital to start the businesses and although consisting mostly of family and friends, they can be useful. Many shareholders have experience of business and further capital they can inject into the business if and when needed. However, it is crucial that there is communication between them and the business manager as if there is not trust will break down and the resulting disputes will be the nail in the coffin, and usually it is, for the concerned business.

All businesses are suffering as a result of the recession, but Somali businesses seem to be failing like sandcastles in heavy rain and winds. For some they fail having tried everything to survive, but for the vast majority they let themselves down by ignoring or forgetting business basics such as negotiation and honesty. The fact is all businesses at some point face great hardship, but what differentiates those that survive from those that collapse is simply the ability to negotiate and communicate with key stakeholders who also have an interest in the businesses survival.

 

Liban Obsiye

libanbakaa@hotmail.com

Taking all the houses and jobs: why is it hard for refugees to access public services in the UK?

Many refugees do not know where to start when accessing public services which they are by law entitled to… The term “hard to reach” has become popular in public service circles and it is generally used as an excuse when public bodies fail to achieve their set goals… The hard to reach label is nothing more than an excuse, but an admission that centralisation has failed those it was supposed to help. As such excuses, neglect and the constant promise of learning from mistakes cannot form the basis of credible public policy. The other excuse [the well rehearsed myth]  of community division within the refugee groups which many local authorities like to hide behind is now also dead as many of the community organisations are represented by larger umbrella bodies such as the Bristol Somali Forum in the case of the Somali community in Bristol. 

(BSMG) Liban Obsiye — If one pays any attention to the right wing press in the UK, and many millions do every week, they would be forgiven for believing that refugees and new economic migrant community groups get all the best housing and jobs, and are directly responsible for reducing the wages of the indigenous population [British citizens], whoever these are.  Many of the political rights already felt this way from the beginning but the global financial crisis and the relatively high unemployment in the UK in all sectors, has entrenched this view in many. Some even go as far as suggesting that refugees know that even if they do not work in Britain is a benefit haven where they can enjoy a life they could not have dreamt of in their own countries. However, despite this image of the savvy immigrants and refugees who only come to the UK to take jobs and benefits and mass produce children to increase their State handouts, the reality is many of them do not know where to start when accessing public services which they are by law entitled to.

WHY?

Public services are services provided by the government to its citizens either through direct provision or through a contracted third party. The general idea is that these public services, which include education and healthcare among others, should be available to all who qualify for it and should be free and easy to access at the point of need – although some are charged for services if they are able to pay for it. Refugees who successfully claim asylum in the UK are the focus of this article as it is their stories that are most disheartening.

“Having been granted refugee status in the UK I was sleeping [staying] with many different friends as I was homeless and I worked for below the minimum wage for at least a year after been recognised  as a refugee here despite having the right to housing support and benefits,” said a refugee who did not want to be identified. “I struggled with speaking English and did not know where to go and who to see until my solicitor one day asked for my new address and when I told him I was homeless he immediately told me how to access housing and that the council had a duty to house me and to advice me.”  Another [refugee] informed me that having been severely beaten and attacked by a racist mob on his way back from work he went home to self medicate because he did not know if he had the right to free medical care.

These stories are not the exception, but the norm within refugee communities and what makes these stories tragic is that they could easily be avoided through the provision of information and advice to those that need it. Many statutory service providers in the UK would argue that they provide their information in multiple languages and translation services are available, but [the question is:] how many refugees can read and where do they find these leaflets even if they can?

Most refugees are fearful of official authority as many have suffered under their own governments’ hands and the idea of approaching local authorities just simply does not appeal to them. Despite having the right to reside in the UK and access full state public services, many shy away from it because they still believe that they are not entitled to it and if they seek it they may be discovered and sent back home. Furthermore, as many were professionals in their own countries, there is a sense of shyness and a need not to be a burden to their host state that directly stops them from claiming the public services they are entitled to. As ludicrous as all this may sound to some, it is a true reflection of the barriers to accessing public services for refugees in the UK.

What is the solution?

At present too many refugees and members of new migrant communities fall through the net as a result of poor information provision and service delivery. The main reason for this is that funding for support for these vulnerable new groups, is heavily centralised and administered mostly by local authorities who have very little connections with these groups and as a result are unable to reach them in a meaningful way which alleviates some of their hardship and poverty. In most cities, areas with the highest concentrations of multiple deprivation are those where the majority of refugee and migrant communities reside and the continuation of the poverty and its extension into the next generation within theses communities is a clear indication that centralisation does not work. Rather than tackle the poverty of these new communities and directly address their service needs, many rightly feel that, centralisation and top down bureaucracy administered by local authority officers who have no links to and little knowledge of their communities, has entrenched the existing poverty among their people.

Most refugees find out about public services and their rights through their community members and very rarely approach statutory bodies for advice, yet the funding for these services and where they exist lies with those the potential service users seldom approach. This does not make any sense.

Refugees and new migrant groups are among the most vulnerable as they have little access to information and support. The most effective and efficient way of reaching them and providing them with the services they are entitled to is through the use of Refugee Community Groups  that they trust and who have experience and expertise in working with these groups. “The fact is that in most sensitive areas of public services, centralisation is a waste of money because the providers do not know the culture of the community and no one would approach them for support,” said a local community volunteer. “Where local government outsources, the funding is not merely enough to cover even half of what they want you to achieve and this has given us the impression in the past that they were and still are setting us up to fail.”

“A great deal of money is wasted on experts and interpreting and translation costs. Would this not be reduced and more money be available for front line services if those that know the community best were properly funded? Is it no logical?” asked a Somali charity adviser. If it is so logical than why do local authorities not see this? “If we succeed, many Council employees will not be able to pay their mortgages in the nicer parts of the city,” he replies.

From our sources there is a clear mistrust between local authorities and the Refugee Community Groups and this only harms those for which the services are intended.

The term “hard to reach” has become popular in public service circles and it is generally used as an excuse when public bodies fail to achieve their set goals. Instead of seeing the centralisation, heavy top down and non responsive and engaging bureaucracy as the cause of policy failure, local authorities prefer to blame those they have failed to engage with. This is then usually followed by a pointless equality impact assessment which generally neglects the main reasons for the authority’s failures. “This is the cycle that embeds poverty in refugee and new migrant communities and creates the jobs in community cohesion and poverty reduction,” a charity chairman informs us. The hard to reach label is nothing more than an excuse, but an admission that centralisation has failed those it was supposed to help. As such excuses, neglect and the constant promise of learning from mistakes cannot form the basis of credible public policy. The other excuse [the well rehearsed myth] of community division within the refugee groups which many feel local authorities like to hide behind is now also dead as many of the community organisations are represented by larger umbrella bodies such as the Bristol Somali Forum in the case of the Somali community in Bristol. 

Although under this new Conservative led coalition government supporting refugees and new migrants is not going to be a popular policy agenda, local authorities must realise that the social and economic inclusion of these groups is fundamental to community cohesion, law and order and the future prosperity of the city. Good local authorities will realise that even if for Mr. Cameron’s multiculturalism is dead, it is their duty under the Human rights act 1998 to not infringe on the rights of those they are in place to serve and this does include refugee and migrant groups regardless of whether they are worthy or not in the eyes of the right wing press.

The simple fact is that many of the most vulnerable in society fall through the cracks because of poor public service provision and delivery. This creates greater poverty, isolation and withdrawal from society for many groups and this is not only dangerous but a clear breach of their Human Rights. Many local authorities speak of human rights and partnerships as if both are going out of fashion or as if to even utter these words after a certain time would be tantamount to treason. However, if they were serious about both they would work more closely with Refugee Community Groups and fund them properly to do the job effectively. If these refugee organisations succeed the only real consequence will be that local authorities will be seen as more innovative, inclusive and truly committed to helping their most vulnerable groups.

Liban Obsiye 

libanbakaa@hotmail.com

What does the European Court of Human Rights Judgement mean for the Somali people?

(BSMG) Liban Obsiye and Yusuf SalahThe ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that allowed two prolific serious Somali criminals to remain in the UK for fear of the breach of their Article 3 rights if sent back to war-torn Mogadishu was predictable. This overturned the British Asylum and Immigration  Tribunals decision that although a return to Mogadishu would and could expose deportees to torture, inhuman and degrading treatment as well as persecution, those with connections to the powerful people in Mogadishu might be able to live there safely. Despite the tough on foreign criminal’s stance the British government has adopted, the reality is that their policies are always subject to a compatibility test with European Union law of which the European Convention on Human Rights 1998 is one of. It is so important that if any member States policies do not comply they can be expelled from the Union after a period of financial penalization. Continue reading

Europe: A place of broken dreams

(BSMG) Liban Obsiye — Many a time I have watched heartbreaking stories about refugees who risk everything to reach Europe in the hope of what they believe to be a good life. For them, despite the warnings of the difficulties ahead, sometimes even in the form of floating dead bodies in the treacherous seas, they believe that the grass is greener on the European side.

The fact is that the majority of asylum seekers are refused the right to remain in the European States which they seek asylum in and are either deported or go into hiding. Even where they are granted asylum or some other temporary leave, they experience great poverty, discrimination and exploitation by others. These people who take advantage of asylum seekers or failed asylum seekers are usually those they know and are closest to them.

The public mood in Europe, in line with the rise of the right wing political parties such as the Conservatives in the UK, is strongly anti Immigration. Immigrants are been blamed by far right groups and the right wing press for exacerbating unemployment and crime. In addition to this because of the shortage of housing, key support services and the welfare cutbacks in the UK as a result of the recession and the enormous public sector debt, immigrants are been blamed, again by the usual suspects, for been given priority over the so called indigenous population of the land.

Europe is wealthier than most other continents and it has been politically stable since the Second World War. This is what attracts many of the world’s refugees and labour force to it. However, in coming to Europe it is important to warn new arrivals, whether they are refugees or migrant skilled workers, that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Having discussed this issue with some of my own family members abroad in other African countries, I can honestly say that most Africans who have never been to Europe will not believe a word I have written in this article. This includes Somalis who reside as refugees in neighbouring east African Countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia. To them, I am informed by a reliable source, I am a person that is blocking them from the dream of wealth, security and great happiness but the fact is that these aspirations could not be further from the truth.

An indication that there has been a shift to the political right in immigration policy in the UK is clearly evidenced in the financial support cutbacks to refugee groups who have provided vital services to new arrivals in the UK. In addition to this, legal support in the form of advice and representation that should be available to all refugees and asylum seekers has become almost impossible to obtain as the Legal Aid budget, which is used to fund public law cases such as immigration and crime for those who are unable to afford legal fees for the purposes of a fair trial and access to justice, has been dramatically reduced. Other assistance such housing and maintenance allowance are available to refugees but again, whether they get it depends on many factors such as if they claimed asylum immediately upon arrival.

Many Somalis come to the UK as spouses of a Somali British citizen or a settled individual with Indefinite Leave to remain in the UK. The requirements were, up to 29th November 2010, that the sponsor of a spouse from Somalia or anywhere else in the world be able to provide their spouse, on top of proving the legitimacy of their marriage or relationship, with adequate maintenance and accommodation. The sponsor also had to ensure that they convince the Entrance Clearance Officers in the British High Commissions and Embassies that they were intending to live with their spouse upon their arrival, that their spouse was above 21 years of age and that they had met their spouse physically. Now in addition to all of this, as of the 29th November 2010 immigration law changed to add that, further to all the above conditions, spouses been sponsored to the UK must pass an English Language test from an approved provider. There will be some exceptions as is always the case but most spouses will be caught by this rule. The justifications provided by the British government for this latest addition to the immigration rules concerning spouses, which heightens the entry threshold, is that they will integrate migrants, promote economic well being of the UK by encouraging integration and protecting services and it will ensure that migrants spouses are equipped to play their full part in British life and society. However, considering that cutting immigration numbers was one of the key pledges of the Conservative Party during the last general election, this new addition to the immigration rules arguably is aimed at doing just this.

Many Somalis living abroad, especially in Africa, get their misguided perceptions of Europe and England in particular, from the Somali Diaspora. The majority of Somalis living in Europe now live in the UK. Even those who have started off living in other European Union Member States and have been granted citizenship there have exercised their rights under European Union law to move freely within the member States to settle in the UK. The Somali Diaspora which single handedly keeps the fragile economies of the various regions of Somalia operating, have been irresponsible in inflating the myth of their own prosperity in Europe. Many members of the Diaspora living in the UK regularly go back for holiday to their regions of origin in Somalia if it is peaceful and the majority of these have built some form of business back home as well as enviable large homes that the majority of the residents of their region can only dream of owning. However, the fact is that Somalis in Europe and in the UK in particular, are among the poorest and most economically inactive ethnic groups. The reality is that the vast majority of Somalis, although some are entering higher education and finding employment in the labour market, live on state benefits and where they do work, they are employed in the catering, security and cleaning sectors which do not pay much above the legal minimum wage. Whether it is assumed by those living in Somalia through the remittance they receive from their family members abroad or from the large homes that are constructed near their own homes by the Somali Diaspora living in the UK or by the old fashion boastfulness of some members of the Diaspora, the idea that Europe offers them a sacred opportunity of a new life of prosperity and change is nothing more than a myth.

“When I received my entry visa to the UK to join my family in London I was very happy. In fact I think it was one of the happiest days of my life,” said one interviewee who has lived in the UK for 15 years now. “But two degrees later I am still worst off than when I worked in Africa in my first profession,” he continued. Another added, “I am sick of telling people back home the reality of living in Europe. If they think they will find riches here let them come and get it. I am sure they will be disappointed. I am working very hard to save some of my money and go back home but saving in the UK is almost impossible with all the bills we pay.”

Currently under the UK Immigration rules people from the more peaceful regions of Somalia such as Puntland and Somaliland would find it very hard to seek asylum simply because they are seen as coming from a peaceful place where they face no actual or potential persecution by the UK Border agency which deals with asylum applications. Of course, the UK Border Agency does always state that all cases are dealt with on the basis of merit but the large number of refusals lately may suggest otherwise. Refusal from the UK Border Agency may be seen as a blessing by those who enter through European Member States such as Greece and Italy as these two countries immigration policies which should be in line with other member States of Europe,  have been criticized  as been detrimental to those who seek asylum there. The majority of Somali refugees who came to the UK through these two countries have been sent back as European Union immigration law relating to refugees has been harmonized to ensure that all Member States of Europe afford the same rights to those seeking asylum in their countries. Sadly, theory and practice seldom operate side by side and in both Greece and Italy asylum seekers are regularly detained, deprived of legal assistance and are forced to live in destitution as there is little state support to provide them with food and shelter as is their right under the European Convention on Human Rights 1998. In the unlikely event that these asylum seekers are successful in their bid for citizenship in these two countries, research has found that they face great discrimination and racism in all aspects of their life during their stay.

What worries immigration practitioners, refugee rights workers and human rights activists in Europe is the fact that Italy and now the European Union is turning to an old foe for support in controlling migration into Europe. This old foe, especially in the case of Britain and Italy is none other than Libya which is run by the racist Colonel Gaddafi. According to the British Guardian Newspaper (1st September 2010) the European Union is keen to strike a pact with Colonel Gadafii to stem the flow of immigrants across the Mediterranean after the Libyan leader put a price tag of €5 bn (£4.1bn) a year on the deal which would stop Europe turning “black”. According to the same source Libya is already taking part in three “pilot projects” set up by the EU and Italy on migration, and Tripoli has received almost €20million in EU funding. In accordance with this pilot project many refugees who come through Libya are sent back by the Italian authorities and soon there is every likelihood that this policy will be spread Europe wide if the pilot goes well. A Human Rights Watch report in 2007 rightfully argued that these “efforts to shift responsibility for migration to countries beyond the EU borders threaten the human rights of migrants, asylum seekers and refugees.”

Refugees who face persecution or a breach of their human rights abroad should always seek asylum in countries where they will be more secure and where their human rights will be respected and protected. Europe and the UK in particular, is a favourite as a destination for those fleeing persecution because it is politically stable and is multicultural when compared to other continents. However, too many risk their lives to leave Somalia for the chance of a better life in Europe. Too many have paid the ultimate price of losing their lives. Would the deceased have taken such risks had they known the truth that awaited them even had they reached Europe safely?

The reality is that Europe’s lights do not shine as brightly when one experiences life here as when one does not. The grass for many in Africa, especially in Somalia, will always be greener on the European side but upon arrival reality will certainly surprise them.

Liban Obsiye is a law graduate and community activist who has worked in refugee family settlement and education in Bristol for over 5 years. He is currently studying MSc Public Policy at the School for Policy Studies, Bristol University, UK. libanbakaa@hotmail.com