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18 June 2014
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Immigration and Emigration
The world in a city

Somalis in Spitalfields

Today, Spitalfields - and the East End more generally - is still a place where many displaced people make their home. In the latter part of the 20th Century, one of the most significant waves of immigration into the area came from Africa, as many Somalis fled the horrors of the civil war in their country.

Somali woman
Somali woman
These refugees joined an established community in London, there are records of Somalis in the capital dating back to the First World War, when they were recruited to fight and then stayed in the city. In fact the Somalis are thought to be the oldest African community in London.

Today some 10,000 Somalis live in the Tower Hamlets borough of London. Muhammed came to London in the late 1990s, he remembers feeling, confused and lost. "Life in this country, it was like, ten times faster than we used to have. It is just much more sophisticated, you have to have a profession, you have to know this and understand that; everything is so complicated."

Language barriers

For him language was the main problem - he remembers the shock of, 'starting from ABC' again in his twenties. Certainly education has been one of the major concerns for this community. The language barrier has knock on effects for other areas such as health and housing, as people are unaware of the options available to them.

Somali couple
Somali couple
Muhammed feels that many Somalis are still lost and isolated, and has set up a theatre group to try to, "raise the Somalis voice, create a bridge between them and other communities, and educate them about everything happening around them." It's one of many associations and groups set up to assist the Somali community in London.

The culture and life of Spitalfields is still as diverse and cosmopolitan as ever. Over the centuries, successive waves of migrants have arrived and thrived in the area, each group adding their own distinct identity to the cultural melting pot. The overlapping experiences and histories of each group add up to make Spitalfields what it is today. Each community has enriched the life of the area in a unique way. But who will be next?

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