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Somali Immigration to Alberta

Somalia is located on the Horn of Africa on the Indian Ocean. It gained independence in 1960 when the northern British Somaliland joined with Italian Somaliland to the south. Despite its population’s seeming very homogeneous when compared to populations of other African nations, Somalia’ post-colonial history has been dominated by disagreements among its many clans. Somalis often declare loyalty to their local clan before the larger nation. In addition to the internal struggles, there have also been international conflicts with Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya over shared borders. These factors have left Somalia without an effective government for most of its existence.

Despite this political unrest, very few Somalis immigrated to Canada until the late 1980s. They started arriving in 1987 following then-President Siad Barre’s campaign of fear and intimidation against the citizenry, purging of the military through fear of disloyalty, and emptying of government coffers.

In 1991, Siad Barre was ousted from power by a coup and Somalia was plunged into civil war. Fighting broke out among different clans and what little government infrastructure there had been was dismantled. Many Somalis were left homeless and without food. People began dying of starvation. United Nations intervention was somewhat successful in providing food to those in need, but it was unable to stop the infighting between clan warlords.

As a result, Somalis have continued to enter Canada as refugees. In 1992, their numbers peaked at 5,456. In 1993, the number of Somali immigrants decreased as a result of the implementation of Bill C-86 which placed new restrictions on those claiming refugee status. Since then, the levels of Somali immigration has remained in the low thousands.

Somali immigrants to Canada face unique challenges. Most arrive as refugees from a war-torn country and have little work experience or education. Their search for employment is further hampered by their lack of fluency in either French or English: most speak Somali or Arabic. Having escaped the horrors of war and famine, many Somalis suffer from trauma upon arriving in Canada. Because of cultural differences, the treatment of this post-traumatic stress poses a challenge for Canadian health care professionals. In addition, some Somalis have encountered discrimination because of their Muslim faith. Traditionally-dressed women have been particularly affected.

As with many other immigrants from Africa, most Somalis have settled in Toronto. Small numbers have moved to Alberta. In 1996, 415 Somalis lived in Edmonton and 210 in Calgary.


Mensah, Joseph. Black Canadians: History, Experiences, Social Conditions. Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2002.

Library of Congress Country Studies: Somalia

National Geographic: Somalia

BBC Country profile: Somalia

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