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Selma Cook

 

LSYF Helping UK Somali Community

 

People from Somalia have been living in the UK for more than two hundred years and at present there are around 160,000 Somalis living in London. There are a number of prominent figures emerging from the Somali community including; Rageh Omaar, former BBC journalist, Mo Farah, Britain’s best distance athlete, and Ahmed Omaar who is mayor of Tower Hamlets in London. Unfortunately, however, Somalis also experience high crime rates and low achievement levels in British society.

 

London Somali Youth Forum (LSYF)

Osman Endem Yapar works with the London Somali Youth Forum (LSYF) which is a strategic community-based organization aiming at empowering youth, advocating on behalf of the community, and organizing conferences and events trying to get people’s opinions on board. Yapar notes, “The LSYF invites statutory bodies to their events to let them see what we are doing and how we can help each other. We also work with the metropolitan police.” LSYF has established a number of reputable agencies in 16 boroughs in the inner suburbs of London. They use all available resources to deliver services to the Somali community. They provide advice, information, and activities for young Somali people with the objective of preventing under-achievement, exclusion, and involvement in drugs and crime. Some of their most significant aims are tackling the Somali’s sense of invisibility and seeking to be a voice for the community.

 

The LSYF primarily focuses on the following areas:
• Gun, Gangs and Knife crime
• Prevention of extremism
• Health and Education
• International Development

 

New Arrivals and the Government  

According to Yapar those who have arrived recently coming directly from Africa are largely asylum seekers trying to escape from problems in Somalia including the civil war and lack of government. New arrivals from mainland Europe largely agree that Britain is more appealing to Muslims and that there are stronger historical relations between Somalia and Britain. They also see that there is more willingness on behalf of the British government to assist Somalis and that the UK is more open than many countries in mainland Europe. At the same time, Yapar admits that there are some governmental policies that need to be adjusted and that many problems could be avoided if the government consulted more with the Somali community.

 

Youth Organizations

The Somali community represents the largest percentage of Muslims in the UK; however, they also experience the highest crime rate. Rival gangs in the UK are a reflection of groups in Somalia as well as some elements picked up here. LSYF works to support young Somalis coming out of prison in an attempt to make sure they do not go back.


The
LSYF also seeks to facilitate the contribution of young Somali people through the progress of sustainable and independent youth organizations at the local, national and international level. Moreover, they strive to influence policies concerning young people in general and young Somalis in particular as well as (member) youth organizations, by being a recognized partner of London-based statutory organization and service providers, namely the Metropolitan Police, and local authorities.
Furthermore, they seek to develop and enhance the contribution of young Somali people and Somali youth organizations in the wider community, taking part in strategic and decision-making processes. At the same time, they promote the exchange of good practice, and individual as well as collective experience, common perception, and equal rights and opportunities among young Somalis in London and throughout the UK.

Raising Awareness and Bridging Gaps
Raising awareness and encouraging the concept of youth policy as an incorporated factor of general policy progress is another goal of the LYSF, along with advocating for active citizenship and cohesion, more equality and fair representation, and cross-cultural acceptance and respect.

They also aim to become the leading regional Somali youth platform in the UK, and they strive to widen British integration while at the same time adding value to the advancement of youth work in other regions.

The LYSF wants to become the one-stop-shop for everyone that needs assistance with or seeks to find out more about young Somalis in London.
They are also trying to provide resources and references while encouraging intercultural engagement in all kinds of issues. Bridging gaps is also important in ethnic minority communities and the LSYF seeks to raise awareness and reach out to isolated people. Yapar comments, “We are trying to expand and stretch our hands to all Somalis.”

 

Government Policies

LSYF suggests that the British government engages and consults more with the Muslim community in general and the Somali community in particular. This should be done before the policies are put into place, not after. Yapar observes: “The government has to understand the community on the ground and gain different perspectives on issues so that they and the Somali community can both contribute culturally and politically.” Some policies anger the Muslim community, for example, the anti-extremism agenda.” Yapar emphasizes, “The name itself is counterproductive; it drives people away. Many parts of the Somali community are hard to reach and they do not understand these policies. It frightens people and they don’t feel understood.”

 

Muslims Are not One Big Block!

The Muslim community in London is made up of a number of ethnic communities, and organizations such as LSYF can assist the government to understand their needs and the issues affecting them. Yapar says, “Muslims are from different cultures even though our religion is the same. A diverse group is needed to truly represent the Muslims.” Organizations like the LSYF are trying to combat extremism and they work closely with the metropolitan police. “Many Somalis feel they are neglected by the government which often fails to understand the sensitivity of the issues facing this community,” says Yapar. He adds: “Being ignored may promote extremism. If there aren’t enough employment opportunities and supervision of the community, some people may be persuaded by extremist groups and taken advantage of, being told that this is the best way to free themselves.”

 

Old and New Somali Migrants

In the Somali community, there are the old established immigrants and the new arrivals. Somalis came to the UK in the 1930s and 40s seeking employment, and they even fought with the allied forces in both World Wars. Then others came in the 1980s and early 1990s because of the civil war in Somalia. These days the UK is receiving new arrivals from mainland Europe as well as from Somalia due to the spate of unrest there. The more established Somalis understand the system and are more grounded in British society. Yapar says: “They have retained much of their Somali identity; however, later immigrants feel they are ‘temporary’ and will only stay as long as civil unrest remains in Somalia. The older generations of Somalis in Britain understand how to tap into the resources in their host country, yet they have strong ties with Somalia. Some from the 1970s still feel they are temporary, whereas the younger ones, the second generation, feel that Britain is their home and even if they go back to Somalia they will still return to the UK.”

 

The extent to which Somalis feel at home in the UK depends on how the government works with them and understands them. The government speaks about integration and says that everyone should be on an equal footing and speak the language. However, Yapar insists that if there will be disparity and poverty, people will not integrate. He comments: “There is no integration if social ills and poverty exist. We need to be on an equal footing with everyone else. We are trying to guide our people into mainstream services and they are ultimately being empowered and helping each other to do that.”

 

Young Somalis in the Wake of War

Yapar notes that many youth coming from Somalia have health issues; many are escaping war and the last thing they have in mind is to have problems in the UK.  At the same time, a group of young Somalis - Ash Shabab – have been plotting terrorism in Australia and are doing the same thing in the UK. This issue is being discussed in the media, but Yapar adds: “It is fair to say that when the youth come to the UK they don’t want problems here. They find the system difficult to understand and it would take them years to understand things enough to make problems!”

 

Yapar believes that if the community works in partnership with central government and other statutory bodies these problems can be solved. He acknowledges that Somalia has governmental problems, structural problems and piracy problems but he says: “We appeal to the international community for help. If there is more structure and stability in Somalia the people can stay there. They love their country.”

 

Unemployment in the Somali Community

As far as life in Britain is concerned, unemployment in the Somali community is by far the most problematic issue in all generations. The government needs to understand that there are different categories of people; each experiencing life in the UK in different ways. For example, Somali university graduates do not find the system very open, and often do not have the capacity and life skills, like assertiveness, to help them get ahead in the work force. To solve this problem Yapar believes that employers must open up and support Somali youngsters. He adds, “Somalis are often not included in decision-making processes. Now as a forum we need to show that we can lobby and advocate for employment for all. This can be done through work force development and helping people get the skills they need.”

 

Family Structure in the Somali Community

Yapar adds that the family structure within the Somali community has issues too. The UK has a different culture and system so there are often misunderstandings within the family. Women feel they have more of a voice in the UK than they had in Somalia and that they can make decisions equally with men. However, because culturally men make the decisions, there is a lot of room for conflict and friction. Hence, there is a growing number of single divorced mothers. Yapar comments: “Women get assertive and want their own way and the family structure is lost. Both men and women need to adjust themselves. They are here in the UK now and have to adapt their lives and behavior while retaining their identity.”

 

This article is based on an interview with Osman Endem Yapar, London, UK. 

London Somali Youth Forum (LSYF)


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