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Somalia, 2 June 2016: Somali youth participation in the first World Humanitarian Summit

By Sagal Ashour

Taken at the WHS session on 'the role of youth in humanitarian action' in Istanbul, Turkey

To be at the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), held 23-24 May in Istanbul, Turkey, with my colleagues, Mohamed Arshad and Badra Yusuf, was an extremely important thing. I was there to represent the 8.6 million young Somalis who make up 70 per cent of the entire population. Like most of them, my childhood was defined by civil war and lack of security. I was lucky to be amongst those who came to Europe, sought asylum and eventually become a citizen of Denmark. However I was never satisfied with my life in Europe, and always believed that I was meant to give back to my community. The connection I share with Somali youth is just too strong to detach me from the reality they are living in. Besides the nightmares from childhood, being a young woman whose heritage is from the two biggest tribes also means that I share my struggle, confusion, and a desire for equality for all Somalis – regardless of which tribe they belong – with all of them.

My future and the future of Somali Youth are intertwined. The tasks of bringing back Somalia to its former glory is upon us all – both local and diaspora youth. Working with young Somalis in the last three years has been the best thing that has ever happened in my life. It is a chance to combine my passion and drive to do something good for my community.

I want a life that is worth living for all Somali Youth – a peaceful environment where we can study, learn a trade, find a job and eventually earn a decent living for ourselves and our families. So I came to the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit to ask world leaders, particularly the Somali leaders, to hear from us and hopefully do something about it. The world will never have real peace and prosperity without a peaceful and prosperous Somalia.

These were some of the topics my colleagues and I highlighted at WHS:

Migration and forced displacement

In 2012, a young Somali woman died while trying to cross from Libya to Italy. Like other passengers in that boat, and countless others before and after her, she wanted to reach Europe so that she can have a better life. The desire to escape from the part of the world she was born into was so big that she dared to risk everything, literally, to cross the unforgiving sea.

Her name is Samia Yusuf Omar. She was an Olympic runner; one of the only two athletes representing Somalia at the 2008 Olympics. She dreamed of competing at the 2012 Olympics and people say that’s why she got on that boat – she wanted to train in good facilities. She was only 21 years old.

Through my work, I have been in constant contact with Somali youth who have either migrated, are about to migrate or at risk of doing it. Lack of economic and political empowerment is a major contributor to why so many of them decided to migrate. For each of the young Somalis I met who planned to take up one of these journeys, I informed them about the risks and supported them in making an informed decision on whether to embark on the journey.

At the WHS and Panel discussion on migration by the initiative 'Telling the real story' which took place in London on May 28th, we discussed the drivers of migration from lack of economic/political empowerment to climate change and food security. The issue of youth unemployment was discussed in great details. Discrimination experienced by young people via tribalism, corruption and affiliations was viewed as a detrimental factor, contributing to the lack of hope within the youth.

The audience suggested that we put more pressure on the Federal Government of Somalia to take more responsibility and bring forward youth employment programs. The private sector should do more to create jobs and opening the job market for young people. All stakeholders within the Somali community should prioritise this issue, creating awareness and information campaigns that deter young people from embarking on this dangerous journey. What’s more, we need to fundraise and support young people with start-ups, recognize the impact social media has on young people both negatively and positively, and use it to further the awareness campaign. The ideas went on and on.

Security and Peace Building

The biggest security threat to young Somalis, in my opinion, is Al Shabaab, who, by the use of extremism, tribalism, clan-ism, anti-development and progress rhetoric, have been recruiting young boys and girls. They use propaganda, intimidation, and the promise of money lure the youth. Many of them are turned into fighters, informants, and suicide bombers. This dangerous organization has been allowed to flourish in the means of illegal arms trade and the Somali government is still struggling to have a serious and significant impact on Al Shabaab. How can we ensure a stable and secure environment for Somali youth where they are safe from such violent extremist group is a critical task for the Somalis and the world.

I’m a member of and run a Somali-led network called Somalis Against Violent Extremism – SAVE. It is an advocacy and advisory network that combines expertise, knowledge and experience from youth leaders, activists, educational professionals, civil servants, students and members of the Somali community. We are determined to creating a platform for civil engagement where young Somalis can express their views, concerns, solutions and ideas without fear, and with a well-connected support network to empower and assist them. SAVE doesn't only address root causes to extremism, but also evaluates and finds tangible solutions by working with Somalis themselves, especially the youth. At the WHS I shared my experience with SAVE and also the need for fostering reconciliation, and post–conflict reconstruction.

Facebook page:

Twitter: @SAVE_int

Climate Change

Somalia’s two decades of political unrest and conflict have contributed to the devastating environmental issues. Climate change, deforestation, and toxic waste dumping are all factors exacerbating the environmental condition in Somalia, and they are getting worse due to lack of political will and determination. The environmental situation is exacerbated by the cutting off trees for the use of charcoal, working in Northern region of Somalia, this has been by far the worst case for slowing down drought in that region.

In my first visit to Hargeisa in 2012 I couldn't help to notice how the plastic bags were hanging on all the trees, I couldn't help myself and made a joke to my local friend that these trees are decorated with plastic bags like how the Christmas trees are decorated with shiny lights. However there was nothing funny about the reality of the lack of understanding the effect of environmental damages to our environment, which predominately the Somali youth will have to find solutions for.

Without a comprehensive and adequate regulation of our environment, governance and regulative enforcement and control of all the mechanisms which are effecting our environment and public health, it will be impossible to control the use of our natural resources to the benefit of the present and future generation.

Through my work, I have built a network of young Somalis from all regions and in the diaspora who either hear me on the radio or follow me through my online posts. Every day, we interact, discuss, exchange ideas and solutions. Sometimes we agree, other times we disagree. I receive messages from young Somalis all around the world, who see me as a window into their best interest, hope and their role model.

I want to remind my fellow Somali Youth, that the independence of Somalia from its former colonial history was initiated by the Youth! We have moved Somalia forward and therefore we need to not only remind ourselves but also remain hopeful that the future is also in our hands and capacity. I strongly believe in the power we collectively have to bring about the changes we want to see in our society. Stand brave against violence and injustice. Say no to violence against women and girls. Respect and value all the differences caused by location gender, believes and culture.

Let progress, development, peace, stability, education and economic progress be our new tribe that connects us all.

These are very good contact organisation for Somali Youth to utilise for support and development:



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