Expats in the emirates are doing well despite stigma of piracy, writes Abdu Baasit
For many, the mention of the name Somalia brings to mind images of gun-toting warlords, pirates, terrorists, a failed state and suicide bombers.
It’s a stigma expat Somalis say they have struggled with in the past three decades, while battling to build lives after fleeing Somalia during the civil war of the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“When I left Somalia in the late 1980s, due to the civil war, the people in Netherlands, where my family settled, used to call us warlords,” says Elmi Roble, who was just 15 when his family fled for their lives.
Roble, 40, now lives in the UAE and has kids of his own but things haven’t changed altogether, he says. “Today my daughters’ classmates in school call them the pirates. So, every generation comes with a new stereotype attached to Somalia.” However, rather than cowering under the shadow of the ugly description, many expats have been spurred on to accomplish greater things than they would have done otherwise.
Roble admits that, for him, the challenge of being seen as a helpless refugee made him determined to work harder and seize any opportunity to escape the daily humiliation he was subjected to.
“We are proud people and will always want to prove wrong those who view us in a derogatory manner,” he says. “Every Somali in the diaspora will tell you that they have had to work three or four times harder than anyone else to prove they’re the best at whatever they do,” adds Roble, who owns a food production factory in Ras Al Khaimah and an airline sales agency in Africa.
He is just one of many expat Somalians who have made their mark in the UAE.
In the central business district of Deira, Somalis are a strong force, owning chains of shops dealing in textiles, foodstuffs, and jewellery, while others are in import and export – running shipping agencies.
“Somalis have taken advantage of the UAE’s location as a major transit point between Asia and Africa to do business with Africa,” says Somali Ibrahim Abdi, a former military man turned businessman.
“This has made Somali expats in the UAE more successful in business than any of the others living elsewhere. That’s encouraged others to come and live here to take advantage of the business opportunities. Even those who have nothing are encouraged by our success.”
Last week, at the UAE Counter-Piracy Conference in Dubai, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, the president of Somalia, said he believed his country was capable of putting an end to piracy within a year if the global community joined the fight. His plea came as the UAE pledged $1 million towards stamping out armed assaults and hijackings off the Somali coast.
Yesterday, GCC Secretary General Dr Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani also praised the role played by the UAE in the “historic achievement” of a reconciliation declaration that paves the way for talks and cooperation among Somali parties.
However, it will take more than battles on the high-seas to put an end to the problem says one Somali expat who lives in the UAE. Mohammed Ali, whose cousin is a pirate, explains that the issues has deeper roots than the obvious shipping problem.
He says of piracy: “People have to survive under any conditions and that is sometimes their only way of surviving.”
Al added: “Let the world give them something better [to live on] rather castigating them.”
…yet some hold on to the past
As security forces across the globe seek ways to end piracy in Somalia, several families in the UAE are worried that their source of income could be cut off if they are successful.
What started as a struggle for sea control among rival fishing tribes along the Somali coast is now a multi-billion piracy business.
Banks, ammunition manufacturers, businessmen and some Somali families with relatives in the piracy business are some of the biggest beneficiaries of the 10 years of piracy activity in Somalia.
“If anyone stops it today, many families and businesses would be severely affected,” said Hassan, a Somali living in Dubai, whose uncle has been a pirate for eight years.
“There are many families here with relatives who are pirates and they largely depend on money sent to them.” Hassan said he came to Dubai with his wife and kids four years ago and has been running a company on behalf of his uncle, who had received his $1.5 million cut from a ransom payment.
“They get a lot of money from ransoms and many of them waste it on luxuries,” Hassan said. “However, some of them want to do something clean and productive so they open businesses abroad that are run by family members.”
Somali Mohammed Ali, who also lives in Dubai, has a cousin who is a pirate and said that the people of Somalia often have no alternative to piracy if they are to survive. “Somalia has been politically, socially and economically unstable for the past two decades,” he said. He added: “There are no decent means of survival and the world has neglected our people.”
This article was posted by Neptune Maritime Security via 7daysindubai.com. MaritimeSecurity.Asia in cooperation with www.neptunemaritimesecurity.com