Members of the Somali community in Cardiff have come together for the first time to fight extremism and tackle under-achievement.
In a move described by Cardiff South and Penarth MP Alun Michael as a “big step forward”, leaders announced the launch of a roadmap aimed at breaking down the barriers in education and integration facing young people.
It comes almost nine months after two teenage boys from Cardiff were arrested near the Somali-Kenya border after one of the boys’ fathers travelled there to bring them home.
Abdirhman Haji Abdallah said he travelled to the African country in an effort to “save” his 18-year-old son, Mohamed Abdirahman Mohamed, who he believed had been “brainwashed” into joining terrorist group Al-Shabaab.
The boys were arrested by anti-terror police and deported to the UK, where they were questioned and released without charge.
Mohamed’s uncle Eid Ali Ahmed, a consultant within the community who helped design the roadmap, told delegates at a conference to mark its launch he had “failed” his nephew. He said:
“My nephew, Mohamed, was somehow confused about Islam. I did not give him what I wanted to give him. That is what triggered me to do this for him and to make life better for every Somali child here in Cardiff.”
He said opening up youngsters’ access to education, improving their language skills and ensuring they learn the “right” Islam could all help tackle underachievement.
He said that when Somali refugees first began arriving en masse in Cardiff during the 1990s, many thought they could “change the world”.
But he said divisions had formed between different Somali community groups, which had damaged the community as a whole and held back its progress.
“Every community has divisions, but the way we do things, it has to be changed,” he said. “Today I’m impressed to see so many young people coming here.
“Today we are stocktaking. Now we are saying we have to be the best – that is my conviction and that is the conviction of many parents and other people.
“It is a difficult process, but it is a process for everybody. Every Somali in the world knows about Cardiff, knows that Cardiff and Wales are very good friends to Somalis – but I think now we have to deliver.
“We can give you advice, we can tell you about our experience, but it is for you young people to take on this initiative.”
Labour MP Mr Michael told delegates he was “proud” of the work that had been done since October.
“We are all here because a young man ran away and was very fortunate to only get to the border of Kenya and not to have been in the way of the campaigns against Al-Shabaab,” he said.
“What happens normally after such an event is the community says, ‘this is not something we want to deal with’.
“Often that person is pushed away from their family because the family is angry, but it is at this time that we need to pull that young person closer to us.
“We need to challenge their views, but we also need to pull them into the family and into the community. That is exactly what happened in this case. That is why I’m proud of your community.”
He said the community had taken a “big step forward” since the events of October, but added its roadmap presented an “enormous challenge”. He added:
“If you tackle the big issues at the places where things are going wrong and if you tackle the other side of the coin, which is being proud of what is going right, then we will see the Somali community in Cardiff taking the sort of place it could take and being a leadership community in the city.”