Somali Support Group Recognised

A Cardiff-based organisation set up to help the city’s large Somali community has been hailed a success by the UK government. The Somali Integration Society (SIS) was set up in 2002 as a community support service providing advice.

On a visit to Cardiff, Gareth Thomas MP, who works for the Department for International Development (DFID), described the SIS as “a great project”.

The city has the largest British-born Somali population in the UK. It is one of the oldest ethnic groups in Wales, but it is also considered one of the most economically deprived and socially excluded communities. Although there are no official figures, there are thought to be around 7,000 Somalis in Wales.

When the scheme was set up by volunteers, it was funded by a small grant from the DFID. It aimed to provide better understanding of Somalis and encourage links with the wider community in order to break down negative stereotypes.

The scheme has helped teach Cardiff school children about the origins of the Somali community in the Horn of Africa, their journey to Britain, and how their culture adapted to life in Wales.

Mr Thomas, MP for Harrow West, said: “The links this group has with other groups across the UK is strong. But more importantly its links are really good into mainstream society in Wales, especially with schools. I think this is a great project – they are doing a really good job.”

He added: “Sometimes it is about giving people confidence and one of the things the Somali community can talk about with confidence is Africa and it’s history. And there is a huge group of people who can talk with passion and with a real sense of immediacy and can help stop social exclusion from a grass roots level.”

He said the UK government invests £15.5m to Somalia to help pay for better health and education. He said providing better resources would help stop large numbers of Somalis migrating from their country and could help rebuild the infrastructure of their homeland.

Ibrahim Harbi, of SIS, said organisations from across the UK were modelling their groups on theirs. “It’s not just in Wales, it’s in Scotland and London. They wanted us to start a branch in Scotland,” he said. “It starts at the grass roots level with the schools and it goes right though the community.”