On Oct. 14, I was participating in “Somali Studies in Canada: Resilience and Resistance,” a multidisciplinary colloquium held at Carleton University.
It was the first of its kind in Canada, and more than 50 brilliant, bright and eager academics, artists, frontline workers, and grassroots activists from Ontario and Quebec gathered to discuss the Somali diaspora’s resilience and resistance over the past 30 years in Canada.
But that was abruptly interrupted as attendees began to hear news of a massive explosion in Mogadishu, Somalia. Two hundred casualties were immediately reported; in just a few hours, more than 300 people were believed to be dead. It is being described as the deadliest attack to take place in the region.
Just two weeks later, on Oct. 28, a car bomb detonated in front of a busy hotel and restaurant as gunmen took hostages inside; later that day, a vehicle carrying government troops triggered a roadside bomb planted by the militant group al-Shabaab. In the end, at least 23 people were declared dead in Mogadishu.
For those of us in Canada who arrived in the early 1990s and who left family and people behind, stories of death and violence have become achingly familiar.
Families that have made difficult decisions to leave loved ones and a homeland behind are constantly forced to relive them in the immediate moments after horrific events have taken place.
It felt like I had barely been given a moment to breathe before I began to call family members and friends to make sure everyone was accounted for. This in-between place—of frantic calls, racing hearts, guilt for the relief that everyone is just fine, frustration, anger and fatigue—was eerily familiar.
Since the explosion, the question at the top of the general public’s mind is: “will your community mobilize?”
To me, the question isn’t worth asking. Over the summer, thousands in Somalia were displaced and put at risk of starvation due to a rapidly escalating drought. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Somalia is facing a humanitarian crisis and is at risk of a severe famine—all of this coming just six years after the last deadly drought.
They note that between November 2016 and May 2017, an estimated 739,000 people were displaced by the drought; more than 480,000 of the displaced, or 65 per cent, are younger than 18.
Shortly after learning this information, a vast majority of the Somalis I knew in Canada mobilized. Elders added extra remittance payments to their monthly spends; young people coordinated events and fundraised money. Even those who could not give money retweeted, shared statuses and ensured the public was aware of the dangerous situation Somalia was in. Young Somalis became #FamineResistors with many in our city doing the work to garner attention, collect donations and forward to the appropriate hands in Somalia.
The question, then, is not whether we will mobilize. The question is: will you?
On Oct. 8, just six days before the horror in Mogadishu, 16-year-old Zakariye Ali was killed in a Toronto junior high school parking lot; three days before that, 29-year-old Abdulkadir Bihi was shot to death in Etobicoke: Allahu naxariisto. Mustafa Mattan, 28, was fatally shot through the door of his apartment building on Feb. 9, 2015; no killer has been apprehended.
He is just one of at least 100 young Somali men between Toronto and Alberta whose deaths continue to go unsolved by local police despite active work by community members and agencies such as Positive Change that have worked to address the lack of information provided by RCMP and other authorities. Somalis continue to be deported by the Canadian government by Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen. Despite Hussen’s identification as Somali, it’s important to remember that representation does not always mean we are allowed to stay.
On top of this, Somalis continue to face negative media depictions that work to present the general public with correlations to terrorism, piracy, and gangsters. Media narratives like Vice’s documentary This is Dixon and the now-discontinued CBC drama Shoot the Messenger which looked to fictionalize the Rob Ford crack scandal.
This scandal saw “Project Traveller” come to a head in June 2013 when police stormed an apartment building on Dixon Road in pre-dawn raids that resulted in more than 60 arrests of primarily young Somali men. When the Canadian public and media only know us through the analysis of violence and terror—a characterization all too frequently and easily deployed—there is only attention granted to us in our deaths.
Why do you only want us when we are dead?
In early October 2017, our mothers cried on camera for the kids they raise here. In July 2017, they wept while they watched Abdirahman Abdi be brutally murdered by police. This week, they weep silently for the family they have lost back home. This middle place they’ve come to reminds them they are not wanted—and still, all everyone offers is prayer.
What happens when the prayers are not enough?
After every death, every drought, every instance of violence, I am hard-pressed to feel grateful that Somalis are granted prayers. We did not get here all by ourselves. We get up and face the onslaught: “Your community again? But how are you feeling?” The answer does not change, and the emotions are the same each time: grief, relief guilt, fatigue, rage, frustration.
We will pray for Somalia, politicians tell us; we will not forget you. But you can not forget those you do not remember. The City of Toronto may light the Toronto sign blue and white, but Mayor John Tory rarely makes commitments to address the violence that lies at the doorsteps of Somali communities.
Somali-British poet Warsan Shire reminds us that “in Somali, when we see injustice, we say ‘dhiiga kuma dhaqaaqo?’ which translates into ‘does your blood not move?’ ”
Can your blood not be moved?
For those of you who are willing to pray and willing to gather in vigil, try something different. Call out false narratives of terror and deficit when you see them. Ask the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services what specific long-term and sustainable services they are allocating to Somali youth in Ontario. Pressure the Toronto Police Services, Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP to appropriately investigate the deaths of young Somali men.
Stand in the streets when we tell you the Minister of Immigration has deported us. Pay attention to the counter violent extremism programs that criminalize Somali youth that are being funded by Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada.
Prayer is an act of empathy; action is an act of solidarity. We need both if any of us are to survive.
CANADA: Edmonton author aims to boost diversity in children’s book publishing
EDMONTON—Two years ago Rahma Mohamed’s then four-year-old daughter saw an Elsa costume, complete with blond braids, and pleaded with her mother to buy it so she would look “beautiful.”
That’s when Mohamed decided her kids needed more cultural inspiration than the blond princess from Frozen.
After a year of work, the first-time author published Muhima’s Quest, a children’s book that tells the story of a young African-America Muslim girl who wakes up on her 10th birthday and goes on a journey.
Now, Mohamed’s at work on her second book, which is due out at the end of the month. She’s on a journey of her own, she said, to boost diversity in children’s publishing.
“I wanted to create a character who had African descent and is a Muslim in a children’s book because I just found out that there were none that were available in the mainstream,” she said.
Her books show kids it’s OK to be different, she said. Take her first book: some Muslims don’t celebrate birthdays, she explains, and the little girl in the book struggles with her faith and questions why she doesn’t celebrate like her classmates do.
“The overall message is that we do things differently, but that part is what makes us beautiful,” Mohamed said.
She said she felt it necessary for her kids to see themselves represented in the books they read in order to “enhance their self-confidence, as well as bolster their sense of pride.”
Mohamed, who writes under the pen name Rahma Rodaah, self-published her first book and since last summer, has sold 200 copies locally.
“It does take a lot of resources and you have to self-finance, but I believe in the end it’s worth it,” she said.
She hopes to go bigger with her second book, which focuses on the universal concept of sibling rivalry, and features a young girl who plans on selling her little brother because she believes he is getting all the attention.
“My overall goal is to portray Muslim Africans who are basically a normal family.”
Mohamed says her previous book was well-received by parents at readings she had done at public libraries and schools.
“Most of them who are Muslims really loved that the kids could identify with the characters,” she said.
The books also acted as a conversation starter for non-Muslim families, she said.
She said, for her, the most exciting part of the journey is knowing that she is making a difference in shaping the minds of young Black Muslims.
“We are underrepresented, misunderstood and mostly mischaracterized. It is time we paint a different picture.”
Canadian Mohammed Ahmed wins silver medal in Commonwealth 5,000M
CANADIAN PRESS — GOLD COAST, Australia — Canadian Mohammed Ahmed earned silver Sunday in the 5,000 metres on the first day of track and field at the Commonwealth Games.
Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei won gold in 13 minutes 50.83 seconds, ahead of Ahmed in 13:52.78 and Kenya’s Edward Zakayo in 13:54.06.
“I’ve been at the cusp for many years, but I finally get to stand on the podium and hopefully (one day) I get to climb one more step,” said the 27-year-old Ahmed, who was fifth in the 5,000 and sixth in the 10,000 at the 2014 games in Glasgow.
Ahmed was sixth in the 5,000 and eighth in the 10,000 at last year’s world championships, both Canadian-best finishes. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, he was fourth and 32nd, respectively, in the races.
Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, Ahmed spent the first 10 years of his life in Kenya before his family moved to St. Catharines, Ont.
A Somali-Canadian’s reflections on Refugee Rights Day in Canada
MUSLIM LINK — Refugee Rights Day is a day to create awareness in the public consciousness about the rights and protection of refugees in Canada. Celebrated on April 4th, this day is significant particularly for refugee claimants because it brings attention to the advances made in the protection of refugee rights in Canada as a result of the Supreme Court’s 1985 Singh Decision. In this decision, the Supreme Court found that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the fundamental rights of refugees. The Court decided that ‘everyone’ includes refugee claimants in the sentence: ‘Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.’
Refugee claimants are therefore entitled to the right to have their refugee claim heard, in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice and international law.
I came to Canada as a refugee from Somalia. I live in Victoria, BC, a city with a growing refugee community.
Every year on June 20, cities and communities in Canada and around the world celebrate and commemorate World Refugee Day which gives the world a chance to focus its attention on forced migration and refugee issues.
But World Refugee Day wasn’t celebrated in Victoria.
I wanted to change that.
I wanted the city, community organizations, community members, faith groups and elected officials etc to come together to celebrate and recognize their coworkers, neighbors, friends, supervisors, doctors etc who have refugee history in their families, or refugee or former refugees to honor refugees and recognize their resilience.
I really wanted to see the community coming together to talk about how we can be more welcoming and create more empathy and understanding for our shared future in this city.
Days like Refugee Rights Day and World Refugee Day create an opportunity to raise public awareness about the long-term challenges refugees in Canada face beyond just settlement.
What many Canadians often don’t realize is the importance of family reunification after part of a family is able to settle in Canada. One of the many shared experiences of refugees is family separation, which has devastating impacts on their wellbeing, and their ability to contribute more to their host countries. Keeping families separated is not good for Canada. When families are united they are able to contribute more to the economy and the mental health of the family is greatly improved.
As a Somali Canadian, I have seen the negative impact of delayed family reunification all to well. I like to think that Somali people are resilient, resourceful and friendly people. I take pride how Somali people have strong family values and support each other, because of that, I was privately sponsored as a refugee to come to Canada by my uncle.
In 2015, just three countries produced half the world’s refugees, and Somalia was one of them. Many Western countries are closing their doors on Somali refugees and that includes Canada. For the last few years I have been advocating to make it easier for African refugees to come to Canada through the Canadian Council for Refugees.
Even though Canada has provided a new home to many Somali refugees in the decades since the fall of Siad Barré, it has not offered special immigration measures to respond to the longstanding catastrophic situation in Somalia as it has with other communities. On the contrary, some immigration policies have particularly discriminated against Somalis, with devastating consequences.
In February 1993, Canada’s Immigration Act was changed so that accepted refugees had to provide satisfactory identity documents in order to be granted permanent residence. Many Somali and Afghan refugees could not provide satisfactory identity documents, because of the lack of a functioning government in their country of origin. Others were also affected, but the Somalis were by far the most numerous to be caught up in the ID issue over the coming years. The consequences for refugees who could not become permanent residents were dire:
They could not reunite with spouses or young children outside Canada.
They could not go to university or college (unless they could afford to pay foreign student fees). They were not eligible for student loans.
They could not travel outside Canada.
They often could not get better-paid jobs as employers didn’t want to hire someone without permanent status.
People’s mental health suffered because of their powerlessness.
By 1999 the number of people in limbo was estimated to be 13,000. Finally in 2000, the government agreed to the settlement of a legal challenge, launched in 1996, which argued that the ID rule was discriminatory against Somalis (the case is called Aden). Under the terms of the settlement, Somali refugees without ID would be able to submit instead affidavits from someone who knew them before their arrival in Canada or from a credible Somali organization in Canada. The terms of the agreement were written into the 2002 regulations of the new Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
During the 1990s, it was often pointed out that keeping thousands of refugees in limbo would have devastating long-term social impacts. Even though the ID issue was largely resolved a decade ago, some of the struggles in the Somali Canadian community today may well be at least partly due to the impacts of the policies, which are felt into the next generation. Families were only reunited after a long separation, people were unable to educate themselves or get decent jobs, and many fell into depression. Many Somalis felt that their community had been rebuffed and rejected by the government.
Somalis being Muslim and Black faced discrimination, but the community resisted and remained resilient and thrived despite the challenges by community coming together and organizing and building social networks which have helped refugees who have came after 2000s. Somali refugees like me.
am so proud of the Somali Canadian community for all the things they have achieved, I have traveled in the last six years across the country, and met Doctors, Lawyers, Business people, scholars, activists, social workers, public servants, community leaders all of Somali origin. Many Canadians are of course familiar with Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, Somali Canadian Ahmed Hussen who came to Canada Somali as 16 year old refugee.
Somali Canadians work hard to continue making Canada a better place – a place that I hope will welcome more refugees. The Somali community’s experience must be retold again and again, so we can learn from it. The Somali community have a lot to share to improve the settlement and integration of refugees today.
I was a refugee for more than two decades before arriving to Canada. It was these experiences that have convinced me to dedicate my life to creating more just, inclusive and peaceful communities; both in my new home country of Canada and in areas where conflict and instability continue to ravage and destroy many lives. I appreciate that these have led me to become who I am, and that’s why I continue to work harder to play my role to make Canada a better place for everyone.
I have worked with a variety of refugee populations in protracted situations in various urban and camp-based locations in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Fortunately I continued my work with refugees when I arrived in Canada. I facilitie volunteer support services for refugees in Greater Victoria at the Inter-Cultural Association of Greater Victoria and formerly facilitated wraparound support services for vulnerable immigrant and refugee youth in Greater Victoria at Immigrant and Refugee Centre Society. I closely work at the national level with the Canadian Council for Refugees — this gives me the opportunity to work around policy issues while locally I work on frontline issues. Through my life experience and my work with refugees at various organisational and community-based levels, I have gained a deep understanding of the protection-related issues refugees are facing in their countries of origin and asylum. This has strengthened my ability to strong advocate for refugees.
One of the big questions I am exploring now is how can Indigenous communities and refugee communities learn more about each other and work in solidarity with one another.
I recognize that as a new Canadian citizen, I am a guest on this beautiful Victoria/Lekwungen territory… land that rightfully belongs to the First Nations.
We are all settlers – including those of us who came here as newcomers or migrants, either in this generation or in generations past, whether voluntary or as a result of war, persecution or conflict.
Unfortunately there is lack of education for newcomers about the history and realities of Indigenous communities upon arrival. Often newcomers pick up negative stereotypes about our brothers and sisters who are Indigenous peoples. I think settlement agencies can draw out some of the similar challenges and cultural similarities of newcomers and Indigenous communities — they may share similar experiences with injustice due to persecution, oppression, colonization, discrimination, stereotyping and exclusion. One in five Canadians is an immigrant so it is crucial to continue building bridges and respectful relationship in order to continue the reconciliation process.
I hope after reading this you will take the time to educate yourself more about refugee rights in Canada.
This year, the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) is running the campaign slogan “Protecting Refugees = Stronger Communities
CCR and all its member organizations are calling on the Government of Canada to:
Resettle 20,000 government-assisted refugees annually.
Ensure applications of privately sponsored refugees are processed within 12 months.
Reform the refugee determination system so that all claimants have access to a fair hearing before an expert independent tribunal.
To conclude, I would like to quote my role model in refugee advocate Barbara Harrel-Bond, who said “Refugees are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.”