Page last updated at 03:47 GMT, Sunday, 14 February 2010

UK Somalis rally behind pirates' British hostages

By Jon Kelly
BBC News

Paul and Rachel Chandler
Paul and Rachel Chandler were seized while sailing from the Seychelles

The kidnap of Britons Paul and Rachel Chandler by pirates of the coast of Somalia has shocked the world - and the British Somali community is keen to show the couple their support.

Sensitive to their homeland's reputation for civil war, piracy and lawlessness, Somalis across the UK have mobilised behind a campaign to release the pair.

TV and radio stations serving the community are broadcasting regular appeals for the Chandlers' release, while demonstrations and public meetings demanding their freedom have been organised by Somali leaders across the country.

They hope that the pressure will be felt back in their mother country - and that the strength of feeling among Somali Britons will be felt by the pirates themselves.

'Very angry'

Paul, 60, and wife Rachel, 56, of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, were captured while sailing towards Tanzania on 23 October.

Their captors have threatened to kill the couple if their demands for $7m (£4.4m) are not met.

Recent video showed Mrs Chandler saying she was desperate and that she had been treated cruelly.

Kayse Maxamed, editor, Somali Voice
Because we are British now, we see our fellow citizens have been taken hostage
Kayse Maxamed
Editor, Somali Voice

The couple's plight has prompted a series of displays of solidarity from the UK Somali community, whose numbers were estimated at 101,000 in 2008 but which some observers believe could number as many as 250,000.

Hundreds are expected to attend a public meeting on Sunday in Camden, north London, called by community leaders in support of the couple.

Somalis in Bristol have already launched their own campaign, when a large crowd gathered to witness the unfurling of a banner in support of the couple outside the Al Baseera mosque in the city's St Jude's area.

Kayse Maxamed, 39, editor of the Bristol-based Somali Voice newspaper, has spoken out about the plight of the Chandlers on the radio in the US and Africa.

Rachel Chandler and Mohamed Helmi Hangul
Mrs Chandler has complained of being badly treated

He believes Somalis in the UK owe a debt of gratitude to the country which has given so many of them shelter from war and violence.

"The Somali community is very angry," he says. "We feel we have to do something.

"Britain welcomes Somalis. Many of us came as refugees, as asylum seekers, and now we live freely. Britain gives millions to the Somali people [in overseas aid].

"We think the pirates really damage that relationship. They blacken our names.

"Because we are British now, we see our fellow citizens have been taken hostage."

Somalis in Bristol even launched a bid to raise funds to pay the ransom - an effort that, says Mr Maxamed, was dropped in a bid to present a united front with the British government's policy of not paying out cash in exchange for hostages.

The Foreign Office had previously issued a statement arguing that "making concessions only encourages future kidnaps" after an anti-piracy maritime group said it should be allowed to negotiate a payment.

'Un-Somali'

However, many believe it is the community's lobbying efforts, rather than its cash, which is its most powerful weapon.

This point is emphasised forcefully by Omar Yusuf, 53, of the Somali Community Centre, in Gospel Oak, north London, and one of the organisers of Sunday's London, meeting.

How can they take an older couple and treat them this way?
Omar Yusuf
Somali Community Centre, north London

"We want people to use their influence back in Somalia - we want word to get back to the pirates that what they are doing is madness," he says.

"We're emphasising the cultural aspect as well - it is un-Islamic, it is un-Somali, to take these people.

"I came to this country 21 years ago with nothing. How can they take an older couple and treat them this way?"

There are signs that this pressure is having an impact. After Ridwaan Haji Abdiwali, presenter on a London-based Somali satellite television channel, made repeated on-air calls for the Chandlers to be freed, the irate pirates rang the station to complain.

The efforts by the community have won praise from the Foreign Office.

"We have raised Paul and Rachel's situation with key Somali contacts from the outset," a spokesman said.

"The diaspora community has shown considerable goodwill."

All those concerned for the fate of Mr and Mrs Chandler will hope this goodwill produces results.



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