Integration must take place on the terms of migrants, says Suleiman Abdulahi. Pictured is the Beacon of Hope peace statue in Belfast. Photo: William Murphy, Flickr.


Double punishment and integration from below

In today's Europe, it is difficult to avoid issues of migration and integration. This is perhaps even more true in the UK, given the country's imminent exit from the EU. It is against this background that the conversation with Suleiman Abdulahi from the organization Horn of Africa People's Aid Northern Ireland takes place.

On a bright spring day in Belfast, I meet Northern Ireland resident Suleiman Abdulahi, who despite his current address is a Danish citizen of Somali origin. He fled Somalia in civil war in 1991 and has lived in a number of countries in both Africa and Europe. Ever since then, he has been committed to influencing his and others' precarious situation as refugees and migrants in new home countries. Here in Northern Ireland, Abdulahi is responsible for HAPANI, or Horn of Africa People's Aid Northern Ireland. The organization is run by migrants and is completely volunteer-based, but still has a big impact with a number of issues, from helping school students with homework to influencing decision-makers. Despite his vast personal experience, both as a refugee and asylum seeker, immigrant and activist, Abdulahi believes that he does not know better than anyone else what the people he helps need. Northern Ireland is perhaps best known for the conflict that has ravaged the region, and it is easy to let this history define the place. But here are completely different problems, problems that risk ending up in the shadows and affecting the most vulnerable even more.

Suleiman Abdulahi. Photo: Jacob Kosharis.

- We must look at people as individuals. Each person's development must be seen as personal and individual, says Abdulahi. The problem, according to him, lies in the structures that look at people from above and from that point of view determine what is best for them. This is also where Abdulahi himself tries to be the solution by asking people what they actually need instead of someone explaining it to them. Those who flee to Europe do not do so because they want to, but without a context of the reality in which they live, they flee their homes to seek the right to security as human beings. But that does not mean they are helpless victims, with less ability or willingness to influence. Those who are already exposed are punished twice.

Abdulahi would rather see people avoid being in a position of dependence, even to him:
- The culture of generosity, where there is a problem, he continues. This can be clearly seen in Northern Ireland. Instead of enabling people's own independence, society creates a dependency. People who come here are not seen as full-fledged people who can bring their own case and have their own will. In this way, exclusion and stigma are also created.

He explains how the authorities here have failed in their integration policy, that politicians choose for refugees and migrants how they can best cope in the new environment:
- The victim is affected again, he points out throughout, and that is the insight that persists I take with me after the conversation.

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