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Somali-Canadian Community Discusses Causes Behind Rise in Youth Gang Activity

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The Somali community that settled in Canada says poverty and a lack of access to jobs and academic opportunities are some of the factors behind deadly gang violence that has taken a toll on its youth.

More than two dozen young Somali men have died in Alberta because of such violence in the past decade, with gang activity spreading to Toronto as well, officials say.

The Somali-Canadian population discussed the issue of gang-related deaths recently at a town hall forum hosted in Toronto by VOA’s Somali Service. In attendance at the town hall were an Islamic preacher, a woman who lost a son to violence, and two people representing youth and parents in the community. More than 200 people attended, including parents, relatives and friends of the victims of gang violence.

In 1991, a large number of Somalis fleeing war in their east African country settled in a group of residential towers in northwest Toronto.

Cultural challenges

The community has struggled to integrate into Canadian life, but several speakers said the largest impediments are cultural challenges, as well as poverty and a lack of opportunities for Somali youth, panel members said.

Habiba Aden, a cofounder of a Somali group called Positive Change, lost her 26-year-old son Warsame Ali in a double homicide in September 2012 in Toronto. She said she believes cultural challenges and a loss of identity are major issues driving young Somalis toward gang activity.

“Our sons lack paternal role model, and they do not speak their mother language, which forces them struggle with identity crisis,” Aden said.

In Canada, “mothers take the leading role of the family while still struggling with raising more than half a dozen kids. They do not get the same help and cultural co-parenting they would get back home from other family members,” Aden said.

She said she believes those challenges lead families to be less physically affectionate with one another, and eventually drive their sons to outside influences.

Sidiq Ali Hashi, the youth representative on the panel said Somali youth are affected by the socioeconomic status of the community coupled with the influence of the poor neighborhoods they live in.

“I think the reason is the environment where the Somali child is being raised. He grows up in the worst poverty-ridden neighborhoods of Toronto,” Hashi said. He said the neighborhoods where Somali youth live lack investments and good schools.

Because of these challenges, some students drop out of school and fall in with drug dealers and gangs, Hashi said.

Canada, parents blamed

Panelist Sheikh Saeed Rageah, a religious scholar and Imam, said the education system in Canada has failed Somali youth, calling the schools “systematic racism.”

“The education system in this country was designed to segregate us. When the Somali-Muslim child joins the school, he or she is labeled as a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD), which deprives them their rights for a fair teaching and homework support,” Rageah said.

However, Saeed Mohamed Mohamud, a parent representative on the panel, said blame belonged not with Canada’s education system but with parents.

“Whatever it is, I think the system in this country was not designed for Somalis. It has been the same since we came here. But I would put the primary blame on a bad parenting of many members within the community,” Mohamud said. “I am a parent. I always see young boys who went to school in the morning, and when they come out hanging out the streets of Toronto with their backpacks. Where are the parents of these boys?”

Some family members had questions for Toronto police, saying many of the homicide cases of slain Somalis remain unsolved.

Toronto police officials said about 40 percent of gang shootings in the city occur in the Toronto neighborhood where Somalis reside.

“We have issues with regards to gang members, drug trade, poverty, lack of opportunity, lack of recreational facilities, inadequate … housing. We have issues with families themselves and the culture that is brought into the community,” Toronto police Superintendent Mario Di Tommaso told VOA.

Di Tommaso said the gangs in Toronto, including those within the Somali community, are based on race, gender and ethnicity.

Community involvement

He said the Toronto police have spent resources to investigate the gang-related shootings and homicides, but he said some blame lies within the community and its lack of reporting such activity.

“We will have many situations where the community at large, not necessarily the Somali community, will make observations, will witnesses something, and they are reluctant to call the police,” Di Tommaso said. “When that happens, you have a proliferation of crimes within that community, which breeds fear.

“We need more witnesses from the community so that we can advance to our investigations,” he added.

At least one parent, Mohamud agreed to a point. He said the community was not happy with how the police and law enforcement agencies handled cases involving the Somali youth, saying, “We have a right that government investigates and tells us who killed our kids, but we also need to collaborate with the law enforcement agencies as well.”

Abdirahman Yabarow, chief of VOA’s Somali Service, said the forum was designed to give the Somali-Canadian community a chance to explore, brainstorm and find solutions behind the violence that is affecting their youth.

At the conclusion of the two-hour discussion, panelists proposed an organization aimed at gathering and making available resources for the community. They also urged those in the audience to unite against the influences that are pushing the Somali youth to drug- and gang-related crimes.

Canada

Canada continues to respond to critical humanitarian needs in Somalia, Will provide $10.4 million for humanitarian assistance

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Canada is concerned by the extremely fragile humanitarian situation in Somalia and supports international efforts to meet the basic needs of the millions of Somalis facing hunger, disease, displacement, physical insecurity and loss of livelihoods. Somalia continues to face the ongoing effects of nearly three decades of conflict and insecurity as well as the impact of chronic drought and other natural disasters.

The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, today announced, on behalf of the Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, that Canada will provide $10.4 million for humanitarian assistance to vulnerable communities in Somalia.

Minister Hussen made the announcement during an event with members of the Somalian community in Etobicoke, Ontario.

This new funding will be allocated to the World Food Programme, UNICEF, the United Nations Development Programme and the American Refugee Committee to help address the critical needs of Somalis affected by the ongoing severe drought and food insecurity in Somalia.

Canada has adopted a Feminist International Assistance Policy, which supports gender-responsive humanitarian action that makes it easier for women, girls and all young children to access nutritious foods and supplements. This better addresses the unique needs of women and girls in a humanitarian crisis.

Quotes

“While Somalia has taken great steps in recent years toward peace and stability, the country remains vulnerable to both natural disasters and conflict. Canada stands in solidarity with Somalia and the millions of Somalis requiring humanitarian assistance in the face of drought and insecurity. Canada is proud to provide this humanitarian assistance to address the needs of the most vulnerable and ensure those requiring emergency assistance are reached.”

– Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

Quick Facts

  • Since 2015, Canada has allocated $89.3 million to address drought- and conflict-related humanitarian needs in Somalia, which includes $4.6 million from the Famine Relief Fund.
  • This funding has been channelled through UN agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement and non-governmental organizations to help provide food, water and sanitation; treatment for acute malnutrition; and other medical support, shelter and protection to those in need.
  • Canada also provides humanitarian support for approximately 1 million Somali refugees living in neighbouring countries through its funding to the UN Refugee Agency and the World Food Programme.

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Contacts

Minister’s Office
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
613-952-1650

Media Relations
Communications Branch
Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada
613-952-1650
CIC-Media-Relations@cic.gc.ca

Marie-Emmanuelle Cadieux
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of International Development and La Francophonie
343-203-6238
marie-emmanuelle.cadieux@international.gc.ca

Media Relations Office
Global Affairs Canada
343-203-7700
media@international.gc.ca
Follow us on Twitter: @CanadaDev
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Canada’s immigration minister warns against illegal crossings at Minnesota’s northern border

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Canada’s immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, arrived in Minnesota just days after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand for now new travel restrictions for eight countries, including Somalia — the land a teenage Hussen fled with his family.

But even as he has come to symbolize for some the divergent immigration philosophies on either side of the U.S.-Canada border, Hussen shuns criticism of the Trump administration’s approach. In fact, he was in the Twin Cities this week in part to discourage a spike in asylum-seekers crossing into Canada this year that has tested the country’s famously welcoming attitude.

“We are huge fans of immigration, but we want people to immigrate through the regular channels,” he said.

In a speech at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Hussen touted Canada’s measured approach, including a gradual increase in immigration planned over the next three years.

He met with resettlement agency staff and other advocates, plugging a unique Canadian program in which private citizens and churches sponsor some refugees.

Members of the local Somali community, where he enjoys rock star status, threw him a welcoming reception in Minneapolis.

“He is an icon,” said Mohamed Ahmed, a local community leader and Bush Foundation fellow. “People see him as an example of what is possible in the West.”

The first Somali-Canadian elected to parliament and appointed as minister, Hussen was 16 when he arrived alone in Toronto, where older brothers had resettled earlier. He has spoken of finding a sense of belonging on his high school track team and of enduring a two-hour commute as he worked at a gas station to save money for college.

He got a law degree from the University of Ottawa and practiced criminal and immigration law. Once a receptionist in an opposition politician’s office, he was elected to parliament in 2015. In January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped him to lead the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

“I am a big champion of our immigration system because I have been through it,” said Hussen, whose visit to Minneapolis was his third to the United States since becoming minister.

In the media, Hussen is often cast as an emblem of Canada’s stance against anti-immigration sentiments sweeping the United States and Europe. But he is unfailingly diplomatic about the differences between the Canadian and American approaches, saying only he has a good working relationship with counterparts on this side of the border. And, he stresses, Canada is by no means unified in support of more immigration.

A recent rise in illegal border crossings into Canada has triggered pushback from conservative politicians there and concerns from border communities such as the Manitoba city of Emerson, unsettled and overwhelmed by the arrivals. In Manitoba, many of those arrivals have been Somalis who had unsuccessfully applied for asylum in the United States. Now, Hussen and some Canadian lawmakers are reaching out to immigrant communities to highlight that border crossers undergo rigorous screening and face deportation if their asylum claims fall short.

“We don’t want people uprooting their lives based on false information,” Hussen said. “Crossing the border irregularly is not a free ticket to Canada.”

Ahmed said word in the local Somali community remains that Canada offers a much gentler welcome to those arriving at its border with asylum claims. He spoke of a friend, a permanent resident who faced deportation after a criminal conviction, who crossed into Canada this year. Though he doesn’t know yet if he will be granted asylum, the friend reports receiving subsidized housing and free legal help, Ahmed said.

To a packed auditorium at the Humphrey School, Hussen touted a plan the Canadian government released in November that will bring in almost 1 million new immigrants by 2020. About 60 percent will be employment-based immigrants, largely arriving through a merit-based system that awards points for education, language and professional skills, among other factors.

Hussen said doing immigration right requires an investment: The Canadian government is spending $1 billion this year on language classes, help with finding jobs and other integration efforts. But he said bringing in newcomers is crucial to ward off a looming labor shortage given Canada’s aging population.

“We strongly believe immigration is key to our future success in Canada,” he said.

Hussen also praised a Canadian refugee resettlement system in which, alongside the government’s program, private citizens and organizations commit to supporting refugees for a year.
The country has found these refugees do better easing into Canadian life. Hussen said the United Kingdom and several Latin American countries are modeling new programs on the Canadian approach, though he hasn’t yet fielded inquiries from the United States.

Hussen said with more refugees displaced globally than ever before in modern history, Canada plans to remain a key player in resettlement: “More people are on the move, and we can’t turn our heads away.”

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Briefing Room

Somali man found guilty in kidnapping of Canadian journalist

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FILE PHOTO: Somali national Ali Omar Ader arrested for 2008 hostage-taking in Somalia of two freelance journalists, Canadian Amanda Lindhout and Australian Nigel Brennan, is seen in an undated photo from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). Courtesy RCMP/Handout via REUTERS

REUTERS — A Somali national has been convicted in an Ontario court for his role in the 2008 kidnapping of Canadian Amanda Lindhout, who was held captive in Somalia for 460 days and released only after her family paid a ransom, Canadian media reported on Wednesday.
Ali Omar Ader, 40, was found guilty of one charge of hostage-taking for his role as negotiator for the kidnappers, in a decision handed down on Wednesday in Ontario Superior Court in Ottawa.

Lindhout, a freelance journalist, was taken hostage in Somalia on Aug. 23, 2008, along with Australian photographer Nigel Brennan, while working on a story. They were released for ransom in November 2009.

Ader was lured to Canada from Somalia in 2015 and arrested in Ottawa as part of a sting operation by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in which an officer posed as a publisher interested in a book Ader was writing on Somalia, according to court documents.

Prosecutors argued that Ader had been the main spokesman for the hostage-takers, negotiating first with Lindhout’s mother and later with a private consultant hired by the families of Lindhout and Brennan.
According to court documents, he referred to himself as “a commander” and repeatedly threatened that the hostages would be harmed or killed unless the ransom was paid.

During his trial, Ader said that he too had been kidnapped by the group holding Lindhout captive, and was forced to act as their spokesman, as he spoke some English.

In his ruling, Justice Robert Smith said Ader’s claims were “completely unbelievable,” numerous Canadian media outlets reported. Reuters has not read the ruling.

Ader faces up to life in prison. Sentencing in the case is not expected until next year.

Lindhout has said she was repeatedly sexually and physically assaulted during her captivity, and both she and Brennan have said they were tortured and starved.

In 2013, Lindhout recounted her experience in the book “A House in the Sky.”

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