Swedish delegates study Mpls Somali population

The delegation took interest in Somali community success in Cedar-Riverside.

by Urmila Ramakrishnan

More than 50,000 Somalis live in Sweden, where the group makes up one of the highest refugee populations in the country. This may sound familiar to Minneapolis residents, who share the city with 25,000 Somalis as well.

During the past week, a Swedish delegation consisting of politicians and academics visited the Twin Cities to study the successes of the Somali community in Minnesota.

The study was inspired by a 2005 trip to Minnesota in which Swedish professor Benny Carlson learned of the community.

“The first step [after the 2005 trip] was to bring this message that there was a vibrant Somali community in Minnesota back to Sweden,” Carlson said, adding that many Swedes do not know about MinnesotaâÄôs Somali population.

A study was then conducted in Sweden in 2007 with the purpose of gaining and spreading more information about the Swedish Somali population and to “inspire” them, because they sometimes “find their situation rather hopeless,” Carlson said.

The delegation toured various places of the Somali community, including the Cedar-Riverside area by the University of MinnesotaâÄôs West Bank campus.

The Somali civil war fueled a huge increase in the Somali population in Sweden in recent years.

“[It] created an urge to find new solutions,” Carlson said.

While the delegates left the United States on Friday, Carlson said the study is ongoing and flexible.

“ThereâÄôs no master plan behind it,” he said. He wanted to look at Minneapolis instead of neighboring countries because “we want to see something different, something that works.”

Swedish city council member Harald Fredriksson said every year 80,000 people come to Sweden, and about 20,000 of them are refugees. This year, 47 percent of them came from Somalia, delegate Johan Walter said.

Delegate Kenny Siöberg said he was working on establishing a multi-ethnic shopping center, similar to those of Minneapolis. The purpose, he said, is to create jobs for the Somali community because heâÄôs been to the markets in Minneapolis and said they are “a very good role model for our bazaar in Sweden.”

He said the support of entrepreneurship is something Sweden can learn from the Minnesotan Somali community.

Swedish Somali and Stockholm city council member Rahma Diri said she saw a difference between the Somali society in Sweden to that of Minneapolis, including business practices and the mindset of Somali youths.

“So far what I have noticed is that people here are much more organized than we are in Sweden,” she said, adding she thinks this is one of the major problems that can be fixed by the delegationâÄôs visit.

“Even though we are a minority in Sweden, we attempt to divide ourselves in different groups, but I donâÄôt see that here,” she said. “People work together [in Minneapolis], and they help each other out.”

Future plans for the Swedish delegation include creating an ethnic community center. Lola Lundson, a project manager in Sweden, said the delegation is focusing on all ethnicities.

She hopes Sweden will progress like the U.S. in terms of recognizing diversity.

The Cedar-Riverside-based African Development Center played host to the delegation.

“WeâÄôve also learned from them a lot,” said Hussein Samatar, executive director of the ADC.