Somalis in Europe: Their Stories, in Words and Illustrations

For most of us, getting to know our neighbors can be a challenge. When our neighbors look different, dress different, and talk different, that challenge can get even bigger. Meet the Somalis, a collection of illustrated stories about the real-life experiences of Somalis in Europe, allows readers to do exactly that: meet one of Europe’s most diverse and growing communities. It also gives voice to the Somali community itself; each story is based on the testimonies of Somalis in Europe.

There are no accurate figures for the number of Somalis in Europe but on the whole they are among one of the continent’s largest minority groups. The UK, for example, is home to Europe’s biggest Somali community. There, the presence of Somalis dates back to 19th century, when seamen and traders arrived and some settled in the UK. In other countries in Europe—particularly in Scandinavia—though the Somali community is small in absolute numbers, their significance is much greater. In Finland, for example, the arrival of Somali asylum seekers in the early 1990s was an important event; it has been referred to as the “Somali shock,” Finland’s first experience accepting large groups of refugees. More recently in Norway, the involvement of a Norwegian Somali in the Westgate attacks in Kenya has focused disproportionate and often biased attention on the Somali community there.

Europe’s Somalis can be divided into three broad categories: people of Somali origin born in Europe; Somali refugees and asylum seekers (who came direct from Somalia as a result of the conflicts); and Somalis who migrated to a country in Europe from elsewhere in Europe, such as from Sweden to the UK.

Meet the Somalis tells the stories of 14 different Somalis in Europe. For some, like Mustafa in Malmö, just getting to Europe and away from the conflict in Somalia is enough to sustain him through the challenges he faces as a Somali in Sweden. For Baashi in Amsterdam, after his family incurred a crippling debt to have him smuggled out of Somalia and away from Al-Shabaab’s attempts to forcibly recruit him, an endless cycle of asylum applications and denials await him in the Netherlands. For second generation Somalis in Europe, life brings its own particular trials. In Oslo, Norway, Amiir’s children go on a family holiday to Somalia to meet their grandparents and cousins; the experience raises questions of identity and belonging for everyone along the way. Somali women in Europe also have their own story to tell. In Leicester, in the UK, the energy, activism, and entrepreneurship of Shamso, a lone mother of five, reverberates throughout her story.

Meet the Somalis depicts experiences many of us will never know, like fleeing a warzone with your children or, worse, leaving your loved ones behind; but more often, these stories portray the values shared amongst most of us in Europe, like the importance of family, well-being, and identity in an ever-changing world.

You can read all 14 of the illustrated stories here. Meet the Somalis accompanies a seven-city research series—Somalis in European Cities—examining the experiences of Somalis in Europe in areas such as education, housing, employment, health, political participation, and identity. The research, due to launch at the end 2013, seeks to offer a better understanding of the challenges faced by Somalis in Europe and how they can be overcome. 

10 Comments

I find these stories deeply sad and fascinating. it's very interesting to get to know some of these characters lives and experiences, and for once, to look at facts and everyday news (such as immigration "problems," and racist accusations) through their own eyes. Great job!

A great initiative and very well done. It really ought to also include details of the artist/creators too though.

I found these stories very touching and heart warming. Thank you Open Society for taking the time and energy to show the world the lives and struggles of the Somalis in Europe. The conclusion is very clear: no matter what race, religion,or culture… we are human beings first and foremost. This was so refreshing from the usual news of violence and piracy that we constantly hear about Somalis. I wish that Open Society would do similar cartoons about the Somalis in Canada and USA. This kind of media can reach far and wide and can actually make people all over the globe closer because it causes people to discover that we have more similarities than diversities. As human beings, we should NOT focus on what differences we have but rather learn from the things we have in common. Again job well done Open Society!

Nothing about the crime ridden Somali communities dependent on welfare, the facts about female genital mutilations in these communities, the jihadists like the Somali that beheaded Lee Rigby or the ones raping swedes and Norwegians in record numbers? Just more marxist brainwashing is what I see here.

The guy who beheaded Lee rigby was actually nigerian, not Somali...

I find most of the stories i read very naive. Finding bigger apartments in Helsinki is easy if you have money. Why do you even have to live in Helsinki if you cant afford it? Why whine and compain that the city can´t offer you a bigger appartment when theres a shortage of affordable appartments, it affects everyone, not just the Somalis.

Its naive to blame everything on racism...if you want a bigger house and more money you will get those things like everyone one else: get a job and work hard. Until then live in a crowded appartment, stop having kids until you can afford them and quit whining.

These are touching and poignant stories about the real life experiences of a nation forced to spread across the world in search of peace and safety.

For all the struggles of the first generation, the second and third generations will blossom in their adopted countries and work to make them more diverse and more tolerant places to live. This is evident in many of the stories shared.

Thank you for all those involved in putting this beautiful work together. A joy to read.

This is pure comedy. "Racist glances", racist employers, racist social workers. The anecdotes are unintentionally ironic since they only strengthen the public view that some asylum seeking minorities (somalis especially) can't do anything else but complain and see every aspect of their failure to integrate and manage on their own as a fault of "the others" and the government which of course is ridden with structural racism, as they say. Sadly, there's a whole system of carefully built business that benefits from the helplessness and victim mentality of the somali communities and I don't see much change coming. In fact, I think _actual_ racism might gain foothold 'cause natives all over the western world are growing tired of being fed the notion that it's their prejudice and hatred towards what's different that's the cause of this. Can anyone name even one country where somalis thrive? Didn't think so.

Also for Layla: Second and third generation humanitarian immigrants - especially muslims - tend to do radicalize and integrate worse than their parents. This is based on studies, not wishful thinking.

Somalis are thriving in the US, as are Roma.

Marvelous work. Like the Somalis, Nubian community in Kenya is also facing similar discrimination - imagine Kenya, an African country!

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