Historical Overview of Somali Emigration  

Somali emigration has been the result of many external as well as internal forces. It can be traced back to the mid 1800s when Somalia was divided between France, England, and Italy, all of which all maintained colonial control until the 1960s. In 1969 Siad Barre took over teh government of Somalia and established an oppressive military regime. During the Cold War, Somalia was supported by the Soviet Union in the Ogaden War with Ethiopia.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, Barre’s supreme and powerful authority probably appeared slightly weaker, motivating his opponents to take action against him (U.N. Somalia). In July of 1989, after Barre issued the deaths of 450 Muslims protesting the arrest of their leaders, Barre's opponents organized against his regime. Already armed resistance movements sprouted up all over the country and Barre was chased out of power and into the mountains in southern Somalia.

Thereafter chaos reigned, the fighting now between clans and warlords. All sense of civil order disappeared and the procuring of basic foodstuff became an issue. Between 1991 and 1992, an estimated 300,000 died of famine and starvation in Somalia (Nduru, 1998). The U. S, Army estimates that in 1992, 25% of Somali children starved to death. By 2001, the disorder, killings, and lack of food had created up to 300,000 refugees worldwide. Roughly 2/3 currently live in the neighboring countries of Ethiopia, Djibouti, Kenya, and Yemen (U.S. Committee for Refugees). In addition, there are about 400,000 internally displaced peoples. Somalia is still in ruins, with no political stability, making the probability of repatriation less likely.

Demogaphic Information

Since the outbreak of the civil war in 1990, 29,000 Somalis have fled to the U.S, with a significant population in Minnesota.  One reason they have chosen Minnesota is for its strong social services including education and the relatively high employment opportunities. Many local churches have played a strong role in assisting the Somalis with their resettlement. There are sizable differences in the recognized Somali populationg in Minnesota. It is generally estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 live in the state, but some estimates reach as high as 50,000. According to the 2000 U.S. Census, there are 11,164 Somalis living in Minnesota. The family remains the most important aspect of life, with many households here consisting of extended family members.

Facts about Somalis in Minnesota

  • 99.9% of Somalis are Sunni Muslims (Ethnic Harvest)
  • 4.3% of all students in Minneapolis speak Somali at home


Ethnic Harvest Ministry Resources. Somalia.

Nduru, Moyiga. Reliefweb: "Somalia: Under Attack from Starvation and Disease." InterPress Third World News Agency. Interpress Third World News Agency (IPS).

U.N. Somalia: The Official Site for U.N. Agencies Working in Somalia.

U.S. Committee for Refugees. World Refugee Survey 2003 Country Report. (Picture taken from here)