Somali diaspora

Somali diaspora
Regions with significant populations
 Yemen 200,000[1]
 South Africa 140,000[2]
 United States 126,948[3][4]
 United Kingdom 115,000[5]
 United Arab Emirates 77,000[6]
 Saudi Arabia 65,000[7]
 Sweden 60,623[8]
 Canada 44,995[9]
 Netherlands 39,465[10]
 Norway 36,658[11]
 Germany 23,350[12]
 Finland 22,721[13]
 Denmark 20,811[14]
 Australia 14,914[15]
 Italy 13,112[16]
 Pakistan 4,500[17]
 New Zealand 2,319[18]
Somali, Arabic

The Somali diaspora refers to expatriate Somalis who reside in areas of the world that have traditionally not been inhabited by their ethnic group. The civil war in Somalia greatly increased the size of the Somali diaspora, as many Somalis moved from Greater Somalia mainly to the Middle East, Europe and North America.

Global distribution

The distribution of Somalis abroad is uncertain, primarily due to confusion between the number of ethnic Somalis and the number of Somalia nationals. Whereas most recent Somali migrants in the diaspora emigrated as refugees and asylum seekers, many have since obtained either permanent residence or citizenship. In total, the ethnic Somali international migrant population includes an estimated 1,010,000 individuals, with around 300,000 residents in East and South Africa, 250,000 in North America, 250,000 in Europe, 200,000 in the Middle East, and 10,000 in Oceania.[19]

By comparison, the number of refugees from Somalia that are registered with the UNHCR is around 975,951 persons. The majority of these individuals were registered in Kenya (413,170), Yemen (253,876), and Ethiopia (250,988).[20] According to USAID, most of the displaced persons in these adjacent territories are Bantus and other minorities.[21] As such, these groups are outside of the scope of this article on the ethnic Somali diaspora.


While the distribution of Somalis per country in Europe is difficult to measure since the Somali expatriate community on the continent has grown so quickly in recent years, there are significant Somali communities in the United Kingdom: 190,000;[5] Sweden: 60,623 (2015);[8] the Netherlands: 39,465 (2016);[10] Norway: 36,658 (2014);[11] Germany: 23,350 (2015);[12] Denmark: 20,811 (2016);[14] and Finland: 16,721 (2014).[13]

United Kingdom

A Somali community center in London's East End (yellow brick building in the middle).

Although most Somalis in the United Kingdom are recent arrivals, the first Somalis to arrive were seamen and traders who settled in port cities in the late 19th century.[22][23] By 2001, the UK census reported 43,532 Somali-born residents,[24] making the Somali community in Britain the largest Somali expatriate population in Europe. An official 2010 estimate indicates that 108,000 Somalis live in the UK,[5] with Somali community organisations putting the figure at 90,000 residents.[23]

Established Somali communities are found in London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Cardiff and Bristol, and newer ones have formed in Manchester, Sheffield and Leicester.[25] The Somali population in London alone accounts for roughly 78% of Britain's Somali residents.[26] There has also been some secondary migration of Somalis to the UK from the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark.[27]


Somalis are one of the largest ethnic minorities in Finland, and the largest group of people of non-European origin. In 2009, there were 5,570 Somali citizens, but an equal number may have received Finnish citizenship. In 2014 there were 16,721 Somali speakers in Finland.[28] According to the Finnish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, the number of Somali-speaking people in Finland in 2010 rose by nearly 10% in a year.[29]

The Netherlands

From 1989 to 1998, the Netherlands was the second-most common European destination for Somali immigrants, only slightly behind the United Kingdom and more than double the total of the next-most common destination, Denmark.[30] However, between 2000 and 2005, there was a significant outflow of Somalis from the Netherlands to the United Kingdom, unofficially estimated to be as large as 20,000 people.[31]

North America

Salaama Hut restaurant at a Somali strip mall in Toronto.

United States

Main article: Somali American

The first Somali-Americans arrived in the United States in the 1920s. They were primarily seamen and New York City was their destination. In the late 1970s, more Somali immigrants followed. Not until the 1990s when the civil war broke out in Somalia did the majority of Somalis come to the US.

The heaviest concentrations are in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St. Paul), followed by Atlanta, Georgia; Columbus, Ohio; Washington, D.C.; New York City; Buffalo, New York; Seattle; Kansas City; San Diego; Lewiston, Maine; San Francisco and Shelbyville, Tennessee metro areas.

As of 2004, an estimated 25,000 Somalis lived in the US state of Minnesota, with the Twin Cities home to the largest population of Somalis in North America.[32] In the city of Minneapolis, there are hundreds of Somali-owned and operated businesses. Colorful stalls inside several malls offer everything from halal meat, to stylish leather shoes, to the latest fashion for men and women, as well as gold jewelry, money transfer or hawala offices, banners advertising the latest Somali films, video stores fully stocked with nostalgic love songs not found in the mainstream supermarkets, groceries, and boutiques.[33]


Main article: Somali Canadians

Canada hosts one of the largest Somali populations in the Western world, with the 2011 National Household Survey reporting 44,995 people claiming Somali descent,[9] though an unofficial estimate place the figure as high as 150,000 residents.[34] Somalis tend to be concentrated in the southern part of the province of Ontario, especially the Ottawa and Toronto areas. The Albertan cities of Calgary and Edmonton have also seen a significant increase in their respective Somali communities over the past five years. In addition, the neighbourhood of Rexdale in Toronto has one of the largest Somali populations in the country. Statistics Canada's 2006 Census ranks people of Somali descent as the 69th largest ethnic group in Canada.[35]

Middle East

Somali women at a political function in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

There is a sizable Somali community in the United Arab Emirates. Somali-owned businesses line the streets of Deira, the Dubai city centre,[36] with only Iranians exporting more products from the city at large.[37] Internet cafés, hotels, coffee shops, restaurants and import-export businesses are all testimony to the Somalis' entrepreneurial spirit. Star African Air is also one of three Somali-owned airlines which are based in Dubai.[36]

Relations between the modern-day territories of Somalia and Yemen stretch back to antiquity. A number of Somali clans trace descent to the latter region.[38] During the colonial period, disgruntled Yemenis from the Hadhrami wars sought and received asylum in various Somali towns.[39] Yemen in turn unconditionally opened its borders to Somali nationals following the outbreak of the civil war in Somalia in the early 1990s.[40] In 2015, after the Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen, many returning Somali expatriates as well as various foreign nationals began emigrating from Yemen to northern Somalia.[41]


A Somali high school student in Cairo, Egypt.

Besides their traditional areas of inhabitation in Greater Somalia (Somalia, Djibouti, the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, and the North Eastern Province of Kenya), a Somali community mainly consisting of businesspeople, academics and students also exists in Egypt.[42][43]

In addition, there is an historical Somali community in the general Sudan area. Primarily concentrated in the north and Khartoum, the expatriate community mainly consists of students as well as some businesspeople.[44] More recently, Somali entrepreneurs have also established themselves in South Africa, where they provide most of the retail trade in informal settlements around the Western Cape province.[45]

See also


  1. Shire, Saad A. Transactions with Homeland: Remittance. Bildhaan.: *N.B. Somali migrant population, Middle East including Yemen.
  2. Jinnah, Zaheera. "Making Home in a Hostile Land: Understanding Somali Identity, Integration, Livelihood and Risks in Johannesburg" (PDF). J Sociology Soc Anth, 1 (1-2): 91-99 (2010). KRE Publishers. Retrieved 6 March 2014.
  3. Survey: Nearly 1 in 3 US Somalis live in Minnesota
  4. "PEOPLE REPORTING ANCESTRY 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates". American FactFinder. Retrieved September 25, 2016.
  5. 1 2 3 "Estimated population resident in the United Kingdom, by foreign country of birth, April 2009 to March 2010 (Table 1.3)". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 30 December 2010. Figure given is the central estimate. See the source for 95 percent confidence intervals.
  6. "Dubai's Somali diaspora hope for change". CCTV. 11 September 2012. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  7. Dubai's Somali diaspora hope for change
  8. 1 2 "Statistics Sweden - Foreign-born and born in Sweden".
  9. 1 2 "National Household Survey (NHS) Profile, 2011". Statcan. 2013-06-26. Retrieved 2013-07-08.
  10. 1 2 Statistics Netherlands
  11. 1 2 Statistics Norway
  12. 1 2 "Anzahl der Ausländer in Deutschland nach Herkunftsland (Stand: 31. Dezember 2014)".
  13. 1 2 IOM - Finland
  14. 1 2 "Population at the first day of the quarter by ancestry, sex, region, age, country of origin and time". Statistics Denmark. Retrieved 5 September 2016.
  15. Australian Bureau of Statistics
  16. Official demographic statistics in ISTAT - Italy
  17. Fakhr, Alhan (15 July 2012). "Insecure once again". Daily Jang. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  18. Statistics New Zealand
  19. Shire, Saad A. "92 Transactions with Homeland: Remittance". Bildhaan. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  20. "Registered Somali Refugee Population". UNHCR. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  21. "Somalia Humanitarian Situation Update". Wikileaks. USAID. Retrieved 19 June 2016.
  22. Arab Population in the UK
  23. 1 2 Dissanayake, Samanthi (2008-12-04). "British Somalis play politics from afar". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-01-25.
  24. "Country-of-birth database". Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Retrieved 2009-01-25.
  25. "Born abroad: Somalia". BBC News. 2005-09-07. Retrieved 2009-01-25.
  26. BBC News with figures from the 2001 Census
  27. Kleist, Nauja (2004). Nomads, sailors and refugees: A century of Somali migration (PDF). Sussex Migration Working Paper. 23. University of Sussex. p. 11. Retrieved 2009-01-25.
  28. Statistics Finland - Statistical databases
  29. Helsingin Sanomat
  30. Fernandes-Mendes 2000, p. 10
  31. Evans-Pritchard, Ambrose (2005-01-05), "Somalis Exiting Netherlands for Britain", The Daily Telegraph, retrieved 2009-08-30
  32. Mosedale, Mike (February 18, 2004), "The Mall of Somalia", City Pages
  33. Talking Point by M.M. Afrah Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA) Aug., 12. 2004
  34. "Ontario Municipal Election: Somali Canadian Prospective". Hiiraan Online. 10 November 2006. Retrieved 8 July 2013.
  35. Statistics Canada - Ethnocultural Portrait of Canada Highlight Tables, 2006 Census
  36. 1 2 "Somalis cash in on Dubai boom". BBC. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  37. "Forget piracy, Somalia's whole 'global' economy is booming - to Kenya's benefit". TEA. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  38. Lewis, I. M.; Said Samatar (1999). A Pastoral Democracy: A Study of Pastoralism and Politics Among the Northern Somali of the Horn of Africa. LIT Verlag Berlin-Hamburg-Münster. pp. 11–13. ISBN 3-8258-3084-5.
  39. R. J. Gavin (1975). Aden under British rule, 1839–1967. Hurst. p. 198.
  40. World Refugee Survey. United States Committee for Refugees. 1997. p. 169.
  41. "Refugees from Yemen Landed In Berabera Town". Goobjoog. 31 March 2015. Retrieved 24 April 2015.
  42. Somalia's Missing Million: The Somali Diaspora and its Role in Development
  43. Somalia: How is the fate of the Somalis in Egypt?
  44. The History of Somali Communities in the Sudan since the First World War
  45. Local xenophobes still plague foreigners


External links

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