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Last Updated: Friday, 29 December 2006, 14:14 GMT
The impact of conflict on UK Somalis
By Jacqueline Head
BBC News website

Armed Islamic court guard with Somali protesters, Mogadishu
Mogadishu has been under the control of gunmen for 15 years

The conflict in Somalia is having a heavy impact on the thousands of Somalis living in Britain. Many are watching on anxiously as the situation develops.

There are approximately 43,000 Somalis in the UK, according to the 2001 census, but some experts put the figure higher, at up to 250,000.

The majority of these immigrants are from the breakaway territory of Somaliland in the north of Somalia, whose independence has not been internationally recognised.

Many came to Britain as asylum seekers, escaping after conflict broke out after the collapse of military government in 1991, but keep close ties to their homeland.

'Worried'

Khadar Ahmed, a 35-year-old Somali living in north London, came to Britain in 1990, seeking political asylum after fleeing the civil war.

"After I saw the pictures of what is going on in my country for the last few days - all the nightmares, killings, suffering - I honestly feel devastated," he said.

"My community is very concerned about what is going on in Somalia right now.

It will make a mark on the Somalis [in the UK]. It will have a big psychological impact
Shamis Hussein

"I have contacts with my family and there is little I can do to stop their suffering."

Ethiopia recently admitted its troops were in Somalia, fighting alongside government forces.

In July, the Islamic court leadership in Somalia ordered a "holy war" against Ethiopians in the country.

Asked whether many Somalis in Britain would respond to calls to join an Islamic holy war, Mr Ahmed replied it would be "tempting" for some people "to return home to stop Ethiopian troops coming to Somalia".

"I don't want the Ethiopian troops coming to my country because this is illegal."

Hussein Yusuf, a 37-year-old business manager at the Croydon Somali Community Association, also came to the UK as an asylum seeker, 14 years ago.

He says the current situation is "terrible".

"It's absolutely disturbing. I don't like to see people killing and dying," he said.

"People here are worried about the war and about their families. There was peace and now it's chaos again and nobody knows who is in control. It's back to square one."

But he says the conflict has not triggered tension between Somali groups in Britain.

"There is no tension between groups here. Maybe they exchange ideas but there is no violence".

Psychological impact

Shamis Hussein, an international consultant on development, who lives in London, came to the UK from northern Somalia 19 years ago with her father, as a student.

Allin Dirir with wife, Linda
I don't think there is any friction between Somalis and Ethiopians in this country because they are away from their own country and their own people
Allin Dirir

She agrees that the problems in Somalia are not working to divide the community here.

"It is nothing to do with the clan issues, it's not a problem. We all relate to one another regardless of clan. The issue is the Ethiopians fighting."

But she says the war is having a strong impact on Somalis in the UK.

"It will make a mark on the Somalis. It will have a big psychological impact."

Allin Dirir, 66, a retired parish councillor in Warrington, came to Britain as a student 44 years ago.

He believes Somalis are unified on their views over what is happening in the Horn of Africa.

Community relations

"Somali people on the whole feel that Ethiopia has occupied their land.

"They are not happy to see Ethiopia bombarding Somali cities. Nobody is happy about it at all."

But he says this is not being reflected in relations between the Somali and Ethiopian communities in Britain.

"I don't think there is any friction between Somalis and Ethiopians in this country because they are away from their own country and their own people.

"Because of the government at the time - they didn't feel their lives were safe. So we are in the same boat."

But despite being against Ethiopia's actions, Mr Dirir believes Somalis in the UK will not join in the fighting.

"I never found any person who says they are going to Somalia to go fighting," he said.

"I don't think that will happen at all. This (UK) is their own country. I feel this is my country, my children were born here, my wife was born here. This is what I feel in my heart, I'm British."




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