Negative attitude towards immigrants has been growing in our country for recent years. The rhetoric that foreign immigrants and returning Somali diaspora are taking all the jobs available in the country and that they are treated preferentially became the everyday conversation in the ordinary people as well as the leading Somali news websites. From Hargaysa to Kismaayo the complaint is unabated and grows by the day.
Universal TV now hosts a programme in which the pros and cons of diaspora returnees are debated in its Hargaysa branch. Since there is no official statistics about the number of returning Somali diaspora as well as other foreign nationals working in the public and private sectors in Somalia, this article will not argue against this view rather it will focus on to highlight why it is important to welcome all kind of immigrants and allow them to stay and work freely in our country.
After nearly three decades of mayhem and anarchy, Somalia has been experiencing a relative peace for the past few years. This prompted the UN to change Somalia’s status from failed state to recovering one which encouraged UN agencies, Somali diasporas and some foreign expatriates to come and work in Somalia.
Moreover, some other people who were displaced by wars going on in their countries such as Yemen and Syria immigrated to Somalia in order to live and work. Most of these immigrants are skilful and have expertise in different areas. However, there are also some unskilled people coming from the neighbouring countries particularly Ethiopia who mainly work as domestic workers. I argue that we need both skilled and unskilled immigrants in our country to boost our economy and rebuild our country for numerous reasons.
Firstly, immigrants will bring the desperately needed skills. After three decades of destruction and degradation caused by the civil war, Somalia started to return to normalcy gradually. During these years of anarchy and disturbance all the public infrastructures have been destroyed, public institutions ceased to exist and educated people fled to abroad. Our education system stopped to function thus shortage of skilled people reached to an unprecedented level. According to WHO (2014), there are only 22 obstetricians and gynecologists and 2733 qualified midwives in the whole country.
Opticians and dentist are unheard off in most parts of the country and the number of qualified engineers and teachers are not better either. One Syrian dentist who now operates in Hargaysa stated that the reason why he came to Somalia was that he found out that Somalia tops places that did not have dentists. Do not mention plumbers and electricians. The country needs people who can fill these gaps; people who have determination to take risk and make changes; people who do not shy away to do any paid job available to them.
One may ask why do we need unskilled immigrants while the vast majority of our people are jobless and 70% of our youth are unemployed? The answer is quite easy and obviously known to most of us. The unskilled people coming to Somalia come from Ethiopia and do menial work such as domestic jobs that our people are not willing to do in our country although they do the same job in other countries.
I have visited in some parts of Somalia last year and one of the surprising things I saw was that farmers were struggling to find workers because no Somali person wanted to do that hard labour with such small money. Nevertheless, immigrants are happy to take on jobs like these simply because they are not in Somalia for holiday but to make money. Determined people like these are what drives countries’ economies and create jobs.
Secondly, immigrants will contribute to our economy. There are growing evidence which show that immigrants help economic growth and job creations. Often immigrants launch business and employ local people thus creating jobs for the local people who may not have capital or the courage to start their own business.
This is a proven fact and prevailed in the immigrant welcoming countries such as America and Western Europe. For instance, in the US immigrants business owners generate $67 billion of the $577 billion in U.S. business income, as estimated from 2000 U.S. Census data.
In addition, they generate about a 25% of all business income in California – nearly $20 billion. This is a huge contribution from people who came to America as immigrants with bare hands. The role of immigrants in job creation and economic growth cannot be obscured from us because that is exactly what we do in the countries we immigrate to. Take Nairobi as an example. Somali people who fled from the civil war settled in Eastleigh Nairobi Kenya and soon seized the opportunity to open businesses to support themselves and their families.
Today Eastleigh is the biggest market in East Africa and generates billions of dollars every year contributing about $1.5 billion in the neighbourhood alone as Yusuf Hassan, Kamkuji MP, stated in 2015. Moreover, as in 2015, Eastleigh represented a quarter of Nairobi City Council’s revenue. However, prejudices against these hardworking Somalis are rife. They are accused of making illegal money; staying in the country illegally, creating insecurity and messing up the whole country.
Thirdly, apart from the economic opportunities that immigrants bring, there are various other reasons which make us think positively and sympathise for those who choose to come to us. Since the collapse of the Somali state, tens of thousands of Somalis fled to all parts of the world thus becoming one of the largest and most widespread diasporas in the world.
We take all risks and hardships to cross borders in order to get a better life. Many of us reached their destination while others met their fate on their way to foreign countries. For the lucky ones who made their journey safely mostly got warm welcome from their host countries.
They are given opportunities to work and study. They are supported during the integration and adjustment process and many of them are given full citizenship which allows to aiming as high as holding senior positions in the government. A good example is Ahmed Hussein, a Canadian Member of the Parliament and immigration minister.
This does not mean we should make our country free for all territory but we should realise the potential and opportunities these people are coming with. Instead of opposing their arrival, we should demand better border control, proper immigration rules and regulating the industry by legalising those arriving in the country so that proper taxation can be applied.
How do people like us who have a tradition of travelling and immigration to other countries show unwelcoming attitude to immigrants? How do people whose president and prime minister hold foreign citizenships can refuse to welcome people who flee from persecution and harassment? Why should we send back people who are in the same situation as we are; people who are running from poverty, insecurity and brutal administration?
In conclusion, immigrants do not still jobs but create them by increasing production, setting up their own businesses and ease upward job mobility for local peoples. They spur demand thus boosting GDP and pass their skills and expertise to the local people.
Inciting hatred and spreading fear against those who are coming to our country will damage our country rebuilding and stability. It will send wrong signal to the world and portrays us as selfish and heartless people who say “what is mine is mine but what is yours are negotiable”.
Ibrahim Aden Shire