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Somali-Canadian community says youth face barriers
Monday, March 04, 2013

New research that suggests young Somali Canadians face barriers integrating into Canadian society is no surprise to those who are trying to reach out to struggling youth.

"These people are Canadian. They are not going anywhere. They can be productive citizens and they can benefit Canada both socially and in economics," said Faduma Mohamed, who co-founder of Positive Change, an advocacy group that fights negative perceptions of Somali Canadians.

"Somali young people feel that they are Canadian, but they still have close ties to Somalia and to Muslim culture... Integration goes two ways," Mohamed said.

The research, done by University of Toronto adjunct professor in Diaspora studies Rima Berns-McGown, was based on interviews with young Somali-Canadians in Toronto.

Those interviewed said they often faced racism from teachers, in which their ability to succeed was often questioned. They also complained of stereotyping by police officers and stereotypes about their identity as Muslims after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Somali people who moved to Canada did not have an already established community and often had to learn English, retrain, find housing and deal with racism and trauma on their own, Berns-McGown said.

But the research, which was published last January by the Institute for Research on Public Policy, found that those who were interviewed identified strongly as Canadian, but that didn't conflict with also being Somali and Muslim.

The interviews were done between 1995 and 2004 with youth in their late teens and 20's who arrived in Canada as refugees or were the children of refugees.

"In doing this study, I wanted to look at the experience of Somali Canadians to turn a spotlight on Canadian society," Berns-McGown said in a interview.

"We need to get it right. We shouldn't just be talking about being multicultural, but about what's working and what's not in our society and our institutions," she said.

The difficulties faced by young Somali Canadians did not stem from a lack of desire to be part of Canada, but from institutional barriers in the education system and in law enforcement, Berns-McGown concluded.

Ahmed Hussein, national president of the Canadian Somali Congress advocacy group, agrees integration is a two way street and says Canadian society should learn more about the Somali community.

"People don't really know that much about our community. We want to build cross-cultural relationships as part of the integration process. We need to learn from each other, that's what Canada is all about," he said.


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