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                                PART ONE

Some of the most daunting tasks that confront a newcomer are communications, religion, cultural, domestic or landlord and tenant issues. But the biggest hurdle of them all is finding a decent job in North America and Western Europe due to the language barrier that could fuel conflicts between the newcomer and a potential employer. In Canada, for example, if you do not have what the Canadians euphemistically call “The Canadian Experience,” you are unceremoniously shown the door. They don’t even bother to read your resume!

Finding a job is not as easy as it seems. There are lots of advertisements in the newspapers for vacant positions out there, but how does a Somali doctor or an engineer who does not have the Canadian or US experience get an employment? Not a chance. What potential employer and the society at large do not understand is that a skilled refugee is anxious to be given the chance to prove himself/herself – documented or undocumented.

Most of my acquaintances do not want to be on welfare or receive food stamps. They are impatient to get out of the welfare allowances that had not been raised in over 5 years despite the inflation of the cost of living.

Because many of us are not educated or exposed to the laws, rules and the culture of our adapted countries, we are literally left out in the cold. Those who are lucky enough are employed as taxi drivers, security guards (watchmen), and parking lot attendants and as manual day labourers. It is no longer out of the ordinary to see a Ph-d holder or an engineer working as taxi drivers or janitors, because they did not have “The Canadian Experience”.

It is unfortunate that our hosts are quick to deny us the chance to earn a decent living when they have no idea the hell we have gone through in our homeland, dubbed as the Land of Sorrow.

Some have been expelled from ESL (English as a Second Language) facilities because they have been skipping classes regularly, and when they attended, they arrived late.  

One bright side is that Somali business people, mainly restaurant and small but thriving business owners, who cater for their compatriots (Halaal meats) were not faced with the problem of adoption. Of course they had struggled with the language barriers on arrival ten years ago as penniless and undocumented refugees, but by seeking help from the various Somali refugee outreaches (refugee resettlement agencies), disputes that might otherwise ended up in the legal systems have been resolved amicably.

Today they are one of the backbones of the national economy, paying federal and provincial tax and employing those who were left in the cold by big-name corporations. Compared with other ethnic groups, the Somalis are law-abiding citizens, according to Statistics Canada Annual Report on Crime. Yet many of us are still left in the cold, even after ten years or more in North America.

Then there is the crisis of affordable rental housing. Thousands are faced with long waiting list for subsidized housing at Metro Housing Agency, because they do not have the luxury of paying 70 per cent of their hard earned income to privately owned condos. Those who are fortunate enough to sleep with a roof over their heads are not glowing either inside their concrete jungles at Dixon Road. They are constantly harassed by building superintends, landlords and bully security guards who threaten them with eviction. Because of their modesty and dress code (the colourful, shapeless floral Dirac and Garbasaar), the Somali women are often disparaged and are invariably called the “Gypsies of Africa”.

As if that is not enough, things are very difficult for people with Moslem sounding names, myself included, in the current political climate in North America and elsewhere in Western Europe. No wonder the Japanese in North America too had gone through the same anguish during the Second World War and were thrown into concentration camps as enemies of the state. The majority of them were born and bred in America and served in the armed forces of the United States. The apology came too late. The damage has been done.

After September 11 tragedy, popularly known as 911, nobody knows the exact number of innocent Somalis who were deported or are languishing in crowded cells in the United States, with no access to lawyers and families. Some people might accuse me of comparing the woes of the Japanese-Americans in 1944 to the Somali case, but the fact is that the parallel is narrowing, unless the US Government removes the mystery surrounding the number of Somalis in custody and why they were kept incommunicado for such a long time, in violation of the much prized American Constitution.

They are still in custody even when it came to light that no Somali national has ever been a member of Al-Qaeda or the Talibans. None of the men who committed the bloodbath in New York and Washington, DC on September 11 was a Somali national. In fact, a number of Somali employees at the World Trade Centre were caught in the inferno, but nobody gives damn about them. WHY? 

 In October 1994, Chief Justice Lamar of the Supreme Court of Canada stated that a judge’s role is “to decide, not to please, to give judgment, not propaganda; and to be faithful to the Rule of Law, not to the rule of external pressure, whatever the source.”

He added that it must be plain to everyone that this branch of government (THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM) is not reserved for any particular sector of the community.

Over to the US legal system!

Our host’s actions are inexcusable. The Somalis are people too, they are ready to blend into the mainstream society. They deserve the same treatment that was given to earlier refugees from Fidel Castro Cuba and Europe and are now quick to stigmatize the newcomers. Instead they should speak from experience, being a refugee is not a walk through prosperity. It is not a vacation or an extended holiday. It is a fight for respect, dignity and survival.

Remember, Albert Einstein was a penniless refugee.


By M. M. Afrah©2002,



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