Refugees Protest, Seek Protection

Christopher Burbach, Omaha World-Herald, January 25, 2011

Refugees from war-torn Somalia and their families packed a South Omaha public housing office Tuesday morning to plead for protection after a recent series of assaults and incidents.

The two-hour protest by more than 100 people at the office of South Side Terrace drew Omaha Housing Authority officials, a police officer and eventually City Councilman Ben Gray of the OHA board.

Mohamed Hassan, director of the Somali Bantu Association of Nebraska, urged the people to protest because they were frustrated with what they said was a slow response from authorities.

Hassan said they were beginning to talk about retaliating against their assailants, young men who live at South Side.

“(The refugees) come from work, they are beaten,” Hassan said. “They came from school, they are beaten. There is no safety and security. We came here for peace. We did not come here to fight.”

He and witnesses said people have seen the attackers run out of a South Side apartment and beat people, then run back in. They said they’ve told police, but officers haven’t followed up.

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The distribution of both African Americans and Hispanics in Omaha can be attributed to several factors. For African Americans, “white flight” out of north Omaha and the availability of lower-cost housing of old sectors of the city have concentrated the population in the northeast of the city.

The location of the Hispanic center is strongly influenced by the concentration of the population in south Omaha. South Omaha has always been an area for immigrants, initially beginning with Italians, Germans, Czechs, Irish, Poles and other Eastern Europeans, then switching to Hispanics in more recent times. The reason for south Omaha being an “immigrant area” is largely due to the historically numerous slaughterhouse operations located there that attract immigrant labor and, consequently, immigrant settlement.

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