The Somali community in Cardiff has the largest British-born Somali population in the UK. They were originally drawn to Cardiff as seamen at the end of the 19th century, shortly after the opening of the Suez canal, to work in the thriving docks. These young men came not as refugees but as sailors driven by the desire to earn money to buy more livestock back in Somali. Some settled down and married local women, whilst others returned home periodically to visit families.
Due to Britain’s colonial presence in Somaliland it was possible for sailors to work and live in the UK. There was usually plenty of work available for the seamen in the docks, and later in the steel industry. They were often filling jobs that the white workers didn’t want, whether on the tramp steamers where working conditions were tough, or in the merchant navy during World War One when white British seamen were transferred to the Royal Navy.
It was not an easy life, and times of economic crisis could spell disaster; the Great Depression saw hundreds of Somali sailors dying from starvation through lack of work.
Take a look at this brilliant feature from the BBC in which thirty years after the Falklands War, merchant seamen from Cardiff recalled sailing thousands of miles with the British task force to help re-take the islands from Argentina.
Source : BBC Article Image : BBC
During the 1980’s and 1990’s, the civil war in Somalia led to a large number of Somali immigrants, comprising the majority of the current Somali population in the UK. Many of the refugees were not men, but women and children whose men had either been killed or had stayed in Somalia to fight, changing the Somali settlement from one of single seamen to that of refugee communities.
Somali refugees, who have arrived in the past 20 years and now make up the majority of the community both in Cardiff and nationwide, often feel lost in modern Britain. The Cardiff seamen, who established the largest British-born Somali community in the UK, feel quite at home.
Given the influx of Somali refugees within the 20 years; arriving often penniless, traumatised and unable to speak English, the presence of tradition and community has lead to an increased optimism for this generation of Somalis in Cardiff.
To get a sense of the optimism held for the future generations of Somali’s I would encourage you to read this rather brilliant article from the Guardian. In this article, Abdi Sugulle manager of Red Sea House, identifies some of the ways in which the new generation of Somali’s have established themselves in Cardiff. Guardian Article – Somalis in Cardiff Additionally, here’s a video profile of Red Sea House produced by Taff Housing Association, in which alongside the importance, the history and future of this community supported housing scheme is examined.