Alberta Somalis Work to End Violence, Deaths Community leaders ask for tolerance, positive integration.
Edmonton, June 16, 2011: Edmonton
Somali groups are desperately searching for a way to end the ongoing gang
violence that has deeply impacted the community—violence that left two dead in
the last month alone.
Across Alberta, 34 Somali men have been killed since 2006, with three of those deaths occurring this year.
Now, two town hall meetings have been scheduled for later this month to bring members of the community together in an effort to explore what can be done about the escalating deaths.
Abdi Hussein, executive director of the Somali-Canadian Cultural Society of Edmonton, says the violence is a manifestation of complex social factors, which must first be understood to find an appropriate solution.
“Things don’t happen overnight,” he said.
Hussein points to the struggle of families—many of whom were refugees fleeing Somalia after it collapsed—that were ill-prepared for the culture shock and obstacles that would greet them in Canada. Many of the families are headed by single mothers whose husbands were killed during the Somali civil war in 1991.
Initially, the impossibility of getting proper identification documents from a collapsed state meant they could not apply for permanent residency in Canada. Prolonged refugee status led to disadvantages in family reunification, mobility, education, and employment.
Language, cultural, and religious differences place deeper invisible blocks for Somali immigrants hoping to integrate fully into Canadian life—maybe more so than any immigrant group.
Somalis who come to Canada are often disappointed to find that what education they do have is either not transferable or not recognized without Canadian work experience.
“What do those kids think when their father, who was an engineer back home, is now driving a taxi,” says Hussein. “How do you convince that kid to go and get an education; how do you motivate him?”
Many children who had inconsistent education during Somalia’s conflict had much difficulty adapting to Canada’s education system and could not find the support they needed to succeed, Hussein says.
These factors have resulted in Somalis facing some of the lowest incomes and living standards in the country since the 1990s, which has led to ongoing social problems for the communities in poverty.
This lack of opportunity and integration is what leads some Somali youth to come to Alberta from Ontario, seeking to land a job in the oilfield and make a decent living. But often they arrive to find that jobs are not available or they don’t have the skills required.
That’s when the $5 billion Alberta drug trade becomes extremely tempting.
“Before they know it, they’ve gotten lured into the quick cash,” says Hussein.
Last year the Alberta government put $1.9 million toward programs intended to give Somali youth job training and work experience to steer them away from the lucrative drug trade.
But Hussein says this money is not going to the organizations that do the ground work directly in the community, alleging it is mainly a public relations strategy that is “window-dressing” the real issues.
“All this money is spent and actually recycled through organizations that are all connected to the government, who get that money in the name of helping Somali people, but at the same time will not even hire one Somali person to do the job,” he said.
“Really it’s not dealing with the real core issues, how to help—truly help—these people.”
Amal Issa, youth coordinator for Somali Canadian Education and Rural Development Organization (SCERDO), says education is crucial for Somali youth to find opportunities and avoid a destructive path. She says the results of SCERDO’s job skills programs have been very encouraging.
“We definitely have seen results and they have been very very positive. The main thing for us is that the youth have been able to see that they have hope, they have a future, they have opportunities. They really just needed someone to tell them that and someone to guide them in the right direction.”
Of great concern to Hussein are media representations that focus on sensational and negative images of the Somali community while rarely showing the strength, vibrancy, and dignity that truly characterizes the Somali people.
He fears the youth are constantly “internalizing” these negative representations, which act as a barrier to their progress.
The only time we
actually have anything to say about Somali people is when another young man
dies, right? But that’s not what we’re all about. We’re a lot of hard-working
people trying to fit in this country, working very hard,” he says.
“We lost a lot of Somalis, but 99.9 percent are doing good and contributing good things in Canada and in Alberta, but that’s not reported, that’s not noticed, that’s not amplified. Every little negative is amplified 10 times. So that’s our challenge, and what we’re fighting now is that image -that negative image that’s persisting because of all the things that have happened.”