WARARKA BARAAWEPOST Arbaco 23 december 2009

 

         

Wretched, jobless, invisible: are Britain’s Somalis the enemy within?

 

 

 

               

Rescuers in Mogadishu carry a survivor from the blast that killed Qamar Aden Ali at a university graduation ceremony on December 3. She had returned in 2005 to help her country

Martin Fletcher

Tears filled Abdul Kadir Ali’s eyes as he sat in a rundown community centre in Acton, West London, and told of his sister’s life and untimely death.

Qamar Aden Ali fled Somalia with her two young children in 1986, he said. She settled in Wembley, learnt English, took British citizenship, studied law at Thames Valley University and joined a law firm helping asylum-seekers. Then, in 2005, she returned to war-ravaged Somalia to become the transitional government’s health minister.

“She said, ‘I need to help my country’,” recalled Mr Ali, a coach company manager. “I told her many times that it’s dangerous, you have no bodyguards, every day they are killing ministers and MPs. She said, ‘The day of my death is already written’.”

On December 3 she attended a graduation ceremony for 40 young doctors at a hotel in a supposedly safe part of Mogadishu. A suicide bomber dressed as a woman blew himself up, killing 22 people. They included the minister, 52, and her cousin, Sadia Said Samatar, 31, also a British citizen.

“When al-Jazeera showed pictures of the scene I could see them lying there on the floor,” Mr Ali said.

His shock was compounded when the bomber was identified as a young Dane of Somali descent. It could so easily have been a British Somali, he said.

In Northolt, two miles away, another Somali immigrant family is struggling to recover after their 21-year-old son quit Oxford Brookes University, went to Somalia and blew himself up at a checkpoint in the town of Baidoa in October 2007, killing 20 soldiers.

It is easy to think of the war in Somalia as being, to quote Neville Chamberlain, a “quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing”. That is a dangerous illusion.

This is a conflict that has driven tens of thousands of Somali refugees to Britain. They are probably the poorest and most disadvantaged ethnic community in the country, a people whose disaffected young are all too easily recruited by gangs or, worse, Islamic extremists.

Government officials say that dozens have already returned to Somalia to join al-Shabaab, the brutal militia with links to al-Qaeda that is fighting the Western-backed Government. They fear that these battle-hardened jihadists will bring their newly acquired skills back to the UK. One senior official told The Times that Somalia had risen sharply up the list of threats to Britain’s security and was probably now second after Pakistan. “It’s something we worry about a lot,” he said.

Lord Malloch-Brown, the former Foreign Office Minister, warned before leaving office in July that “the main terrorist threat comes from Pakistan and Somalia, not Afghanistan”. Radicalised Somali immigrants have already launched botched terrorist attacks in Britain and Australia.

The Government has no reliable statistics on how many Somalis now live in Britain. One official reckoned that there were 150,000 legal immigrants and three times as many illegal ones.

The usual estimate is about 250,000, mostly in London but with sizeable numbers in Liverpool, Sheffield, Bristol, Cardiff and other cities.

It is almost certainly the biggest Somali community in the worldwide diaspora and suffers from shockingly high levels of unemployment, low levels of education and wretched living conditions.

A 2008 report by the Institute for Public Policy Research suggested that 46 per cent had arrived in Britain since 2000, 48 per cent had no qualifications and barely a quarter of the working age population was employed — mostly in menial jobs.

In 1997 Haringey Council found that 50.6 per cent of its Somali adults were illiterate in any language. Sue Lukes, the co-author of an imminent report on housing, says that Somalis are “possibly the worst-housed ethnic community in Britain, certainly in London”. Many do not speak English, received no education because of the war, or have known nothing but violence.

The community is fractured, has largely failed to integrate and has lost its traditional social structures. Britain has only one Somali mayor, in Tower Hamlets, East London, and one former councillor, in Liverpool.

The Metropolitan Police employs not a single Somali policeman, although it is now training four. “It has been called the invisible community,” Mohamed Aden Hassan, co-founder of the Somali London Youth Forum, said.

Not surprisingly, some marginalised young Somalis join gangs: the Tottenham Somalis, the Woolwich Boys, Thug Fam. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Somalis are too often the perpetrators, or victims, of violent crime.

Two Somali brothers, Mustaf and Yusuf Jama, murdered PC Sharon Beshenivsky during a robbery in Bradford in 2005. In 2006 another young Somali, Mahir Osman, was stabbed to death at a Camden bus stop by a gang of 40 youths, several of them Somali.

Rageh Omaar, the Somali-born television journalist, has talked of the “crisis of our young men” and a “sense of denial” within the community.

Other young Somalis, angered by the US and British-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, have followed the siren call of Islamic fundamentalism. Two of the four men who tried to bomb the London Underground on July 21, 2005, were Somali asylum-seekers.

Others have gone home to fight for al-Shabaab, which, until Ethiopian troops withdrew from Somalia in February, portrayed itself as a nationalist group fighting foreign occupiers and enjoyed considerable support among British Somalis.

British officials are uncertain whether the converts are recruited on the street, in mosques, or through the internet, but al-Shabaab certainly exploits the latter. In one online video two young suicide bombers talk of the “sweetness of jihad”.

“How dare you sit at home and see Muslims getting killed . . . Those who are in Europe and America, get out of those countries,” they say.

Officials do not know exactly how many have gone because they cannot distinguish between Somalis travelling home for legitimate and illegitimate reasons. “It’s not hundreds, but it’s more than single figures,” said one senior Whitehall source, who added that non-Somali British had also gone to global jihad’s latest battleground.

A counter-terrorist source said: “They are not just fighting and learning new skills, but forging contacts from around the world.”

Leaders of Britain’s Somali community are appalled at the image that it has acquired and argue that most Somalis in this country are peaceful and law-abiding. They say that the community increasingly sees al-Shabaab as the terrorist organisation that it is.

Belatedly, they and the authorities are taking steps to protect their vulnerable youth and Mr Ali is now joining them.

He is setting up a foundation in his sister’s memory to combat the radicalisation of young British Somalis. He intends to campaign in schools, mosques and workshops against extremists who brainwash susceptible young Muslims like his sister’s Danish killer.

The stakes are high, he says. When the recruits have finished fighting in Somalia “they will send them back to Europe and America. It will be very, very dangerous.”

Home in Britain

70,000

estimated number of Somalis living in London

8,305

Somali nationals granted British citizenship in 2005

11,100

Somalis became asylum seekers in the first half of 2009

9,100

of these were in the EU

Sources: UNHCR, 2001 census, BBC, Home Officee

Source timesonline.

 

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