I have lived in the Netherlands for 22 years. I call it my home. Sadly for Somalis who arrived here in recent years, the widespread welcome and acceptance I found in the Netherlands is long gone.
I am part of a generation of Somalis in the Netherlands who were lucky enough to know life in Somalia before the war. I was born in Somali and went to University in Mogadishu, where I got my degree in law. I left the country, not out of fear or desperation as is the case for many Somalis today, but because of a job opportunity in Europe.
Somalis who came to Europe in the 1990s were mostly educated, from urban areas and able to settle into life in Europe without too much difficulty. The situation of Somalis coming to Europe today could not be more different. Many have known nothing but war their entire lives. They have had no education, no chance to develop, or learn or live. In addition to the trauma of war in Somalia, the journey to Europe brings its own turmoil.
It can take 10 years for some to reach Europe. A typical journey can involve travel overland, time spent in neighboring countries, risk of arrest, and sometimes a dangerous and desperate boat journey to mainland Europe.
Somalis are real survivors but this survival comes at a cost—psychological, and also that of financial exploitation by racketeers who arrange your journey. Women are particularly vulnerable on these perilous journeys, sometimes travelling alone with children after the death of their husbands in the war. I hear these stories in my part-time work as a translator; it troubles me to think that for many Somalis, their problems are not over once they reach the Netherlands.
As the report Somalis in Amsterdam illustrates, this community faces more challenges than any other new community in Amsterdam. In addition to a hardening political climate, Somalis face challenges getting an education, finding work, and settling into life in Amsterdam.
Women face a real battle that deserves special attention. Somali women can have large families, which can make it difficult for them to find the time to integrate. Nonetheless, Somali women are influential in their families and community. Helping their integration into Dutch society will have many long-term benefits.
Lots can be done to improve this situation. A bigger and better role for nongovernmental organizations and Somali community groups in developing policies to help integration is one first step. Promoting Somali role models for young Somalis (much of the Somali population in Amsterdam is young) is another easy step. More help for Somalis to learn the Dutch language will reap rewards for everyone, socially and economically.
Somalis can catch up with the rest of Dutch society if given a chance. In everything from entrepreneurship to determination, Somalis have a lot to offer.