Somalia's missing million: The Somali diaspora and its role in development - Mar 2009

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Executive Summary

1. The Somali Diaspora makes a major contribution to the Somali economy and livelihoods through remittances, humanitarian assistance and participation in recovery and reconstruction efforts. This study seeks to highlight where and how the Diaspora's development efforts are currently focused so that the UN/UNDP can better understand and support their significant humanitarian and development activities.

2. With 14% of its population outside, Somalia is a globalised nation. At least one million Somalis live in the Diaspora, concentrated in three main areas: the Horn of Africa and Yemen; the Gulf States; and Western Europe and North America.

3. Kenya and Yemen have most refugees. In Europe, the UK has the largest Somali community and attracts Somali migrants from elsewhere in the same continent. The next largest are Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Italy. The US and Canada have big Somali communities concentrated in Minneapolis, Ohio and Toronto. The Somali Diaspora is still on the move. Malaysia and Australia are new growth areas.

4. Conflict-driven mass migration from Somalia began 20 years ago but had been preceded by smaller waves of economically driven migration. Distinctions exist between the first generation, their foreign raised offspring and newer arrivals to the Diaspora. The first and third of these groups maintain the closest ties to their homeland. Second generation loyalties are still evolving but will be vital for future dependence on Diaspora support.

5. In conflict and peace building, the Diaspora is a double-edged sword, contributing significantly to both. Financial obligations to support the clan in times of conflict have endured. Yet Diaspora intervention in support of local reconciliation and state building has been a key ingredient for success, notably in Somaliland and Puntland.

6. Since 2000, the Diaspora has been highly visible in the state institutions of Somalia, including Somaliland1 and Puntland, occupying top leadership positions of the state, political parties, cabinet, parliament and civil service. Some question the prominent role of the Diaspora in Somali politics.

7. Remittances to family members inside the country are a well-established practice. Remittance flows were estimated at up to $1 billion in 2004 but could be as high as $1.6 bn to Somalia and $700 m to Somaliland. Remittances represent 23% of household income with up to 40% of households receiving some assistance.

8. The Somali Diaspora is the major investor in the country and provided 80% of the start-up capital for small and medium enterprises (SMEs). For-profit activities contribute to economic recovery and improving livelihoods. Returnees establish businesses individually or as a group and pool resources or manage business at the executive level. Investment is spread over various sub-sectors such as smallscale industries, telecommunication, remittances and trade.

9. Another form of intervention, often linked to business networks, is the provision of emergency relief in times of natural or man-made crises. The Diaspora has proven capacity to send immediate cash and supplies to address the emergency needs of the victims. Funds are often mobilized by and distributed through the private media. Contributions of this kind stretch beyond local affiliation and are given from a sense of patriotism or religious obligation towards the affected.

10. The Somali Diaspora makes its most sustained and direct contribution to development and service delivery by establishing and supporting local institutions in the home region, district or village. Long-term, systematic support typically involves paying salaries for teachers and health workers and support for orphanages. The scale of this activity is hard to quantify because it involves hundreds (probably thousands) of small fund-raising networks operating across the globe. It appears that the practice of supporting facilities in the home area within Somalia is becoming part of the traditional culture of obligation towards those who are left behind.

11. Finally, Diaspora members contribute to development through their work for international development agencies. Returnees contribute their skills and technical know-how, where they teach in the local universities and provide technical support to government departments. The UNDP Qualified Expatriate Somali Technical Support (QUESTS) project has helped to promote this activity in areas of stability.

12. Overall, the activities of the Diaspora in the political and economic spheres tend to be mutually supportive of each other and are resulting in an ever-strengthening Diaspora network that plays an increasingly significant part in the life of the country.

13. Following a workshop at which the study was discussed, a number of recommendations have been put forward with a view to forging a stronger development partnership between the United Nations/UN Development Programme for Somalia, international community and Diaspora, and the Somalis working to enhance development in the country.