Somalis Face Prejudice and Exclusion

Emily Woodgate, News in English, December 11, 2013

A new report into Somali integration in Oslo has found immigrants from the east African nation often feel excluded from Norwegian society, and must battle against prejudice and stereotyping. School absenteeism and dropout rates are higher for Somalis than other immigrant groups, and employment rates remain very low.

The Open Society Foundation’s (OSF) ‘At Home in Europe’ project investigated Somali integration in Oslo, Malmö, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London and Leicester. The report found Somalis make up Oslo’s third-largest immigrant group, and are one of the largest refugee groups coming into Norway.

“Many are working hard to be accepted as Norwegian citizens,” OSF Director Nazia Hussain told newspaper Aftenposten. “Compared to the other European cities, Norwegian Somalis are characterized by a strong commitment to participation in and belonging to the community.”

Despite these efforts, researchers found the group lacks a sense of inclusion. About 80 per cent of Somalis are under 40 years of age, and 80 per cent of second-generation Somali-Norwegian children are under 10. The youth aren’t seen as Norwegians, but no longer identify solely as Somalian. Education is vital for integration, yet Somali students have an above average drop-out rate and a higher absentee rate than both the general population and other immigrant groups. Language and cultural difficulties make it hard for parents to help children with their studies.

Low workforce participation

In the workforce, only 40 per cent of Somali men and 23 per cent of women have jobs. OSF found there are few job opportunities for unskilled workers in Norway, many immigrants lack the qualifications to apply for work, and processing of asylum claims delays job hunting. Cultural reasons are partly to blame for the low number of women in work, especially mothers of young children. Somalis feel discrimination, exclusion, poor language skills and a lack of qualifications all hinder the job hunt.

Abdirahman Awila, a 44-year-old father of eight, has never held a job for longer than three months in his 13 years in Norway. “I would feel more included in the community if I had a job,” he told Aftenposten. He has high school education, car and truck driving licenses, has worked in warehouses, factories and shops, and is now memorizing the streets of Oslo in the hopes of getting a taxi license.

OSF was concerned to find little information available when it comes to assessing immigrant health. In the housing market, only 16 per cent of Norwegian Somalis are homeowners, many struggle to access housing subsidies, standards are low, and illegal discrimination is rife when seeking private rentals. Despite the number of organizations geared towards Somali integration, many have low involvement in their neighbourhood, school and wider communities.

Negative media portrayal
The researchers found Somalis were the immigrant group most often cited in reports of unemployment, poor school performance, abuse of the drug khat, female genital mutilation and other negative topics. Somalis surveyed in the report said stereotypes have a major impact on their every day lives.

Cindy Horst from the Peace Research Institute (PRIO), which led the research for OSF in Norway, said this view isn’t representative of Somalis as a whole. “Some are employed, some are unemployed, they are highly educated or illiterate, some have been here for two years, others for 20, some are poor, others highly paid.”

Horst told Aftenposten the negative media attention can become a self-fulfilling prophecy for young Norwegian Somalis. “They become so disillusioned that they give up, no longer striving for inclusion and turning their back on society. Some think, ‘When that’s how they see us, forget it!’.”

“It must worry the authorities that a whole group of citizens feels excluded. We don’t yet know what the consequences of that will be,” she said.

The report found there are many good programs underway helping Somali integration, run by religious, social and government groups. Norwegian Somalis are becoming more politically active and better able to manage their own integration. But the OSF warns Norwegian society as a whole needs to come to terms with its growing ethnic diversity, because being ‘Norwegian’ is no longer defined by a person’s parents and birthplace.

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