Widening Somali conflict has locals worriedby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
Violence in Somalia escalated dramatically over the weekend with hundreds more civilians killed and injured. Intense fighting between allied Ethiopian and Somalian troops and insurgent militias has forced an estimated 500,000 people to flee the capital, Mogadishu. Last month, more than 1,000 people were killed in the worst fighting the country has seen since 1991. The war is affecting Minnesota's Somali community deeply as many fear for the safety of family and friends back home.
St. Paul, Minn. — For Minneapolis resident Halima Ibrahim, the news is grim. Halima is from Mogadishu, where many of her family still live. Two weeks ago, her sister was killed.
"In the middle of their night they were sleeping in their home and a rocket came and they were killed," she says. "You are lucky if you get the body."
After hearing about the attack, Ibrahim called her sister's house and a soldier with the Ethiopian military answered the phone.
Stories like this one are repeated endlessly among Somalis here as more and more hear bad news about family back home.
Over the weekend, hundreds of Somalis attended a conference to discuss the war and raise money for refugee aid. Long lines formed at tables outside the Minneapolis Convention Center hall as people waited to sign petitions.
Among the crowd was Abdi Aynte, who works as a reporter for the Minnesota Monitor. He also runs Hiiraan.com, a widely read Somali news service.
Aynte came to Minnesota from Egypt where he fled from Somalia in the 1990s with his family. He says the discussion in the comments section of his Web site has a common theme: a feeling that the international community has turned its back on the crisis in Somalia. Anger is especially sharp towards the United States. Aynte says this anger is starting to bridge longstanding political and tribal divisions within Minnesota's Somalian community.
"I have never seen Somalis more unified in any other time in the past and I think it has a lot to do with the fact that no matter what tribe you come from -- Somalis have been killing each other so long -- but this time a lot are united because they feel their own people are being slaughtered," he says. "The tribal grudges are there, no on can deny that, but people are saying, 'we just need to stop the killing and the violence.'"
Minnesota is home to the largest population of Somalis in the U.S., estimated at between 20,000 and 50,000.
Somalian University of Minnesota geography and global studies professor Abdi Samatar says activism is strong, especially among young people.
"People under 30 who have been here at least 10 years and they are more angry and engaged and enraged with the policy of our government. Others are involved, but they don't have the kind of energy," Samatar says.
Somalian community organizations have been collecting signatures and lobbying their legislators. They want Minnesota's elected officials to pressure the Bush administration to stop the violence in Somalia. Samatar says the growing activism is one positive result to come out of the ongoing war.
"The silver lining to this is to mobilize the Somalis and put some of their petty differences aside and look at the larger picture in terms of human rights abuse by the government of Ethiopia," says Samatar.
That message was also in the air at the Somali mall on Minneapolis' Lake Street. Many shopkeepers were planning to close early so they could attend the conference at the Convention Center.
Northeast Minneapolis resident Cali Hasan, who was a fisherman in Somalia, came to Minnesota seven years ago and now owns a coffee shop at the Lake Street mall. He lost his sister to a mortar attack just last week. Hasan worries for her seven children who are now orphans.
"It's dark. The kids future is very dark now," Hasan says.
For Hasan, the end of the war cannot come soon enough. He dreams of one day being able to take his children fishing in Somalia.
"I am going back to my fishing. That's my dream," Hasan says. "I hope the dream will come true".
For now, it remains difficult if not impossible for most Somalians to leave the country.
- Morning Edition, 04/23/2007, 7:50 a.m.