In-depth: Separated Somali Children

SOMALIA: Chapter 6: Personal Accounts - Dahabo

Dahabo Isa, with Nimo, 18, who arrived as an unaccompanied child
NAIROBI, 6 January 2003 (IRIN) - Dahabo

Dahabo has a small organization based in Earls Court, London, and operates out of two tiny rooms. The organization receives funding for its role as a community advice centre and the work it does with Somali children.

I have heard of suicide cases, where these young Somali children attempt to kill themselves, cut themselves, or throw themselves in front of trains

Dahabo told IRIN there are people in the Somali community who want to keep unaccompanied children off official lists so that they can continue to use them to get benefits from the welfare state.

When people arrived in the 1990s from the wars in Somalia, they found it difficult. There was the language barrier, they were culturally and religiously isolated, and they found themselves in an alien system. They found that although they now had security and accommodation, they had a whole different set of problems. Many were confused, had mental health problems, and were suffering from stress and trauma.

Unaccompanied children have even more problems. They suffer all those things as well as being without family support and affection. In 1993, we began to see a flow of unaccompanied children. Of course, they came right from the beginning, but it was only later we realized the scale of the problem.

Most of the unaccompanied Somali children are hidden. They stay with clan members, and have maybe one relative, so they appear to have "family". But often the family just wants social service benefits, and does not give the child any affection or proper attention. Often the children are still feeling the effects of war, of bereavement, and are suffering from lack of housing, or are stressed because of immigration problems. Then they have education problems on top of it all...

They can become delinquents, and get into problems with the police. I have also heard of suicide cases, where these young Somali children attempt to kill themselves, cut themselves, or throw themselves in front of trains.

We try to do what we can, and find them through word of mouth. The young can't get housing on their own; to be on the priority list you have to be a mother with children, or disabled, but there is no priority given to these children. So, sometimes they get brought along by adults, and are claimed as their own children to secure accommodation. Sometimes they come to our attention because they have been used to claim benefits, but then the family doesn't want them any more - or maybe immigration hasn't accepted them.

So then they come to us, or we hear about them. Even then it is difficult - we want to meet them, put them on the list of unaccompanied children, but our people [the Somali community] refuse. They don't want it known that they are unaccompanied children, because they want to keep on getting the benefits.

The children know they don't have an equal life - an equal share - with the other children in the family. That leads to misery and problems. Sometimes the children go to the authorities themselves. If they are under 16, they ask for a foster home. Sometimes social services refuse and say it is enough that they are with relatives, and they should stay where they are. Social services don't want to spend money on these children. We try to help, meet with the duty worker, and go to the asylum section for unaccompanied children. But too often they say the children should stay with relatives and friends. This case is not a priority, they say.
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A Gap in their Hearts - the experience of separated Somali children
Personal Accounts
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