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Winnipeg’s Somali community holds vigil for Mogadishu bombing victims



Winnipeg’s Somali community gathered Saturday to mourn friends and family killed in last weekend’s deadly bombing at a market in Mogadishu and to bring attention to the ongoing violence in the country.

The death toll from last Saturday’s bomb blast — described as the most powerful ever seen in Somalia’s capital — rose to 358 as of Friday with dozens still reported missing. More than 300 people were also injured in the attack when a truck loaded with explosives detonated near a crowded market.

Mayran Kalah, who came to Canada 26 years ago as a refugee to escape the violence in Somalia, attended Saturday’s vigil in Winnipeg and told CBC News she lost 22 family members in the blast.

“Those were our cousins, my aunties’ kids — some are still missing — some are confirmed dead,” she said.

“What is making us so hurtful right now is because we don’t even know. There’s some still missing and my family is calling and telling me ‘I think we’ve buried so-and-so but it was just body parts’.”

“We’re emotional, we’re horrified, and we want the killing to stop.”

Officials in Somalia have blamed the al-Shabaab extremist group for the bombing. Somali intelligence officials told the Associated Press the truck — which carried a bomb estimated to weigh between 600-800 kilograms — was meant to target Mogadishu’s heavily fortified international airport but instead exploded in the crowded street after soldiers opened fire.

Kalah said nearly everyone who gathered for the vigil held Saturday afternoon at Central Park has lost a friend or family member in the blast, and the community gathered Saturday because most were working last weekend and haven’t had a chance to meet and mourn. Many wore red bandanas to represent the blood lost in the attack.

“The feeling here is emotional but we’re still going.” she said.

Civil war started in 1991

Until 2011, al-Shabaab, an extremist group, controlled Mogadishu and much of Somalia and imposed a strict version of Shariah law. The militant group rose out of Somalia’s civil war, a conflict that began in 1991 and is still considered ongoing in the country.

Although the group’s hold on the country has weakened, it still carries out deadly attacks, including one in Mogadishu in January which killed 28 people. Last Saturday’s bombing is the deadliest single attack Somalia has ever seen.

“I’m not going to say we’re used to it , but this is expected if you’re from Mogadishu,” said Kalah. “We’ve been expecting stuff like this since 26 years ago.”

As well as the violence, Somalia is experiencing a devastating drought that has led to famine which could affect 6.2 million people, according to estimates from the United Nations.

It is the third famine in the country in 25 years; a 2011 famine killed nearly 260,000 people.

The violence and devastation has led to years of exodus from the Horn of Africa country, including the influx of Somali refugees Manitoba has seen coming over the U.S. border over the last year.
Mahdi Warsame, who attended the vigil after arriving in Winnipeg from the United States just two weeks ago, said last weekend’s bombing shows why Manitobans need to welcome refugees like him from Somalia.

“They don’t need no more facts, they had a real fact Oct. 14 with what happened in Mogadishu — Mogadishu is not safe,” he said.

“I want immigration to understand that we are here for our safety, we are not here to take the Canadian resources … we want to live peacefully like regular people.”

With files from The Associated Press and Kelly Malone


Somali youth project update (Project TooSoo)



CBC —  For the past year, a group of young Somalis in Toronto has been learning how to re-claim the stories told about their community.

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Arts & Culture

Kenyan-Somali, black, Muslim and Canadian: new doc explores Canada’s hyphenated identities



Short documentary ‘Hyphen-Nation’ by 22-year-old Torontonian puts five black women in conversation

A new documentary by a 22-year-old Toronto filmmaker is analyzing what is means to be an immigrant in Canada.

Directed and produced by Samah Ali, Hyphen-Nation features a 14-minute conversation between five women of colour that is inspired by her own cultural experience.

The women discuss how their cultural heritage influences their identities as Canadians and immigrants.

“The whole conversation is what’s your hyphen?” explained Ali, calling her debut film a “nuanced” discussion about what black Canadian identities look like.

“And that’s what opens it up to so many people to identify with because whether it’s themselves or their family members who have an immigration story, everybody typically has a hyphen.”

The women are asked if they identify with being black Canadians.

Ali explains this is both liberating and tragic. She identifies as a Kenyan-Somali woman, along with a Muslim woman and a black woman.

“I don’t know if I identify strongly as a Canadian, but definitely when I leave Canada I identify as a Canadian,” she said despite being born and raised in Toronto.

“The other parts of my identity, the ones that are more visible, the ones that I practice everyday are definitely the ones that are on the forefront of my mind. Compared to my Canadianness, it’s something that I’m not really aware of until I have my passport and I’m travelling to other countries.”
Sojin Chun, programmer for Regent Park Film Festival, says the short documentary captures the theme of the festival.

“We really want to show different narratives that you wouldn’t normally see through other means, through the mainstream media,” she said.

The three day event is free and showcases the work of women of colour which reflects Toronto’s east end neighbourhood.

“We really make sure we represent all the cultures that are present in Regent Park,” said Chun.

Ali explains this is why she wanted Hyphen-Nation to premiere at the film festival.

“I want this film to foster a greater community, not only in Canada, but also worldwide.”

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



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.

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