Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
Why do we still have a problem with integration?

By Greg O'Keeffe, Liverpool Echo

I WAS lucky enough to spend a few days in the United Arab Emirate’s capital Abu Dhabi recently.

And among soaking up the 35degree sun and trying to find somewhere to watch the Everton game, I befriended our Somalian tour guide Anwar.

Despite a predictable admission that he supports Liverpool, we hit it off and had a good laugh as he showed our group around a dynamic city of luxury hotels and sky-scrapers.

And in a typically Scouse six-degrees-of-separation moment, he’d heard the sad news about his 17-year-old countryman Ahmed Mohamed Ibrahim being battered to death in Sefton Park.

That story, which broke just before I set off, brought into focus the city’s close-knit, and ever-growing, Somalian community in Toxteth and Granby.

My mum grew up in L8, so it’s an area I’m familiar with. And I’ve long been curious about this community-within-a-community which sometimes seems forgotten.

There were no Somali kids at my secondary school but some of my mates went to south end high schools which were full of pupils hailing from the East African republic.

Over the last 20 years, thousands of Somalian refugees have fled their civil war torn homeland for refuge in British cities like London, Cardiff, and of course Liverpool.

But despite two decades worth of bedding in, it seems that there is an ongoing problem with integration into the wider city.

Many Somalis even feel it is hard to integrate into the Granby community and tensions have risen between Granby-based Somali refugees and mixed-race Scousers.

There is a feeling that young Somalis have no appropriate youth facilities in L8 and so drift towards congregating in gangs around the two local parks.

Unfortunately things, as we’ve seen, can get out of hand as these disenchanted and bored gangs end up acting however they want.

I’ve heard bleak accounts from Somali lads about feeling abandoned in our secondary school system; one lad left me aghast with his memory of a teacher advising him not to bother with GCSEs, because ... “What’s the point?”

Equally, one of the lads I spoke to said older Somalis who sought asylum in the UK later in life can find it harder, and are maybe be less inclined, to break down the barriers of insularity.

Liverpool proudly calls itself the ‘World On One city. For hundreds of years, different communities have played a part in our history.

We have provided refuge for thousands of people escaping danger in their country, like the Somalians, and we are said to have the oldest Chinese community in Europe.

We have also hosted a Black community since 1750, not to mention the Irish, thousands of whom came into the city after the potato famine of the 1840s.

Various volunteer groups as well as the council’s Emtas (Ethnic Minority And Traveller Achievement Service) do their best to encourage integration.

It just seems a shame that a community like that of the Somalis – which is bursting with vibrancy, heritage and cultural difference – can often seem so peripheral and lost, even when it is on our door-step.

SOURCE:  Liverpool Echo, March 19, 2008