Population Movements

Somalia is considered a globalized nation, with more than 1 million Somalis currently living outside the country. Somalis are largely concentrated in three areas: the Horn of Africa and Yemen, Gulf States, and Western Europe and North America [15]. Nearly two-thirds of all Somalis living outside Somalia live in neighboring countries, namely Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen [16]. In Europe, the United Kingdom is home to the largest Somali community, followed by the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark [15]. A growing number of Somalis have also settled in Switzerland, many of whom arrived as asylum seekers [16]. Lastly, Malaysia and Australia have also seen an influx of Somali immigrants in recent years [15]. In the United States, Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community, with the majority residing in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area (Hennepin and Ramsey counties), as well as St. Cloud and Rochester [17]. Many Somali refugees and immigrants have also settled in the Seattle metropolitan area, as well as Columbus (Ohio) and the surrounding area [14, 18].

As of December 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that more than 1.5 million Somalis were internally displaced. Additionally, as of January 2018, more than 875,000 Somalis were registered with UNHCR as refugees in Africa and the Middle East [19, 20]. However, this figure only accounts for registered refugees, and therefore likely underestimates the scale of the refugee crisis in the Horn of Africa. Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen host the largest numbers of Somali refugees. Somali refugees have also fled, in smaller numbers, to Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Uganda, and South Africa [20].

To Kenya

Kenya hosts the largest number of Somali refugees (more than 313,000 as of April 2017), most of concentrated in the Dadaab Refugee Complex, in Garissa County near the Somali border. Established in 1991 to provide refuge for families fleeing the Somali Civil War, Dadaab consists of four camps: Dagahaley, Hagadera, Ifo, and Ifo 2. A fifth camp, Kambioos, was closed in February 2017. As of April 30, 2017, UNHCR estimated that approximately 245,000 Somali refugees live in Dadaab [20]. Other sources estimate that between 300,000 and 350,000 Somali refugees reside in Dadaab, as many refugees in the complex are not registered with UNHCR [21, 22]. Some camp residents have lived in Dadaab for more than 20 years, while many others were born in the camp and have never set foot in Somalia. Additionally, as of April 2017, approximately 40,000 Somali refugees were living in Kakuma Refugee Camp, located in northwest Turkana County, and more than 30,000 Somali refugees were living in Nairobi [20].

To Ethiopia

As of March 2018, more than 255,000 registered Somali refugees were living in Ethiopia. At that time, more than 217,000 Somali refugees lived in Dollo Ado Refugee Complex, which consists of five camps: Bokolmanyo, Melkadida, Kobe, Buramino, and Hilaweyn. At the end of March 2018, roughly 37,000 Somali refugees resided in the Jijiga Refugee Complex, consisting of three camps: Aw-barre, Kebribeyah, and Sheder. Additionally, UNHCR reports that fewer than 1,000 Somali refugees live in Addis Ababa. However, the true number of refugees in Addis Ababa is likely much higher, as UNHCR estimates only account for registered refugees [20].

To Yemen

While the majority of Somali refugees have sought asylum in either Ethiopia or Kenya (exceeding 567,000 total refugees), more than 255,000 Somali refugees have been registered in Yemen as of December 2017 [20]. Somali refugees have been arriving steadily by boat in Yemen since 1991, via the Gulf of Aden [23]. Some Somali refugees go to Kharaz Refugee Camp. However, Kharaz is too small and underresourced to accommodate the number of new arrivals; therefore many remain in urban areas such as Sana’a [23, 24]. In Yemen, Somali refugees often live in poverty, have difficulty finding work, and are at increased risk of human trafficking and discrimination. Some Somalis try to reach Saudi Arabia for better employment opportunities.

For up-to-date information regarding Somali refugees in the Horn of Africa and Yemen, please visit UNHCR’s Information Sharing Portal for Refugees in the Horn of Africa: Somali Displacement CrisisExternal.

Resettlement to the United States

Resettlement of refugees from Somalia first began in 1990. The number of Somali refugee arrivals nearly tripled between 2011 and 2014. Since 2014, Somali refugee arrivals have remained consistent at roughly 9,000 each year (Figure 2) [25]. From 2010 to 2016 (fiscal years, October 1 to September 30), more than 47,000 Somali refugees arrived in the United States, with the majority of arrivals under 45 years of age and roughly equal numbers of male and female (Figure 3) [25]. During this time, Minnesota and New York welcomed the largest numbers of Somali primary refugee arrivals, followed by Texas, Arizona, Ohio, and Washington (Figure 4) [26].

Following initial resettlement in the United States, many Somali refugees relocate to states with well-established Somali communities. Minnesota receives a significant number of secondary refugee arrivals, with the largest numbers coming from New York and Texas. From 2010 to 2016, the Minnesota Department of Health (Refugee Health Program) was notified of 3,740 secondary arrivals [17]. However, the true number of secondary Somali arrivals is likely much higher, as the state is not always notified. The majority of secondary arrivals in Minnesota settle in Hennepin, Stearns, and Kandiyohi counties, all of which have well-established Somali communities [17].

Chart depicting the number of Somali refugee arrivals from FY 2010-2016. There was a slight decrease in arrivals from 2010 (N=4,873) to 2011 (N=3,145). From 2011-2014, the number of Somali refugee arrivals increased from 3,145 (in 2011) to 9,011 (in 2014). From 2014-2016, the number of Somali refugee arrivals remained relatively constant at approximately 9,000 arrivals each year.

Figure 2: Somali Refugee Arrivals in the United States, Fiscal Years (FY)* 2010–2016 (N=47,407)

Source: Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS) [25]
*US fiscal year begins October 1 and continues through September 30 the following calendar year

Figure 3: Age Distribution for Somali Refugees at Time of Resettlement to the United States, FY 2010–2016 (N=47,407) From 2010 to 2016, more than 47,000 Somali refugees arrived in the United States, with the majority of arrivals under 45 years of age at time of arrival. During this time, there were roughly equal numbers of male and female arrivals for each age range (under 2, 2-4 years, 5-14 years, 15-44 years, 45-64 years, and over 65 years).

Figure 3: Age Distribution for Somali Refugees at Time of Resettlement to the United States, FY 2010–2016 (N=47,407)

Source: Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS) [25]

Figure 4: States of Primary Resettlement for Somali Refugees, FY 2010-2016 From 2010-2016, more than 47,000 Somali refugees have been resettled in the United States. Minnesota, New York, Texas, Arizona, Ohio, and Washington all received more than 2,000 refugees. During this time period, Somali refugees were resettled in every state except for Hawaii, Montana, Arkansas, West Virginia, and Delaware.

Figure 4: States of Primary Resettlement for Somali Refugees, FY 2010-2016

States of Primary Resettlement for Somali Refugees
States N %
Minnesota 5,659 11.9
New York 3,786 8.0
Texas 3,620 7.6
Arizona 3,250 6.9
Ohio 2,834 6.0
Washington 2,422 5.1
Missouri 1,885 4.0
Massachusetts 1,781 3.8
Georgia 1,725 3.6
Kentucky 1,693 3.6
California 1,613 3.4

The remaining 17,139 refugees were resettled in 34 different states across the United States, as well as the District of Columbia [26].
Source: Worldwide Refugee Admissions Processing System (WRAPS) [26].

References

  1. Ashkir A, Mohamed F. Vaccine Hesitancy in the Somali Community. Washington State Refugee Health Conference. 2017.
  2. Sheikh H, Healy S. Somalia’s Missing Million: The Somali Diaspora and its Role in Development. United Nations Development Program. 2009.
  3. Connor P, Krogstad JM. 5 facts about the global Somali diaspora. 2016 June 1; Available from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/06/01/5-facts-about-the-global-somali-diaspora/External
  4. Minnesota Department of Health. Somali Refugee Arrivals to Minnesota, 1999–2016 (unpublished data). 2017.
  5. Hollingsworth S. Personal communication. 2017.
  6. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Somalia. [cited 2016 October]; Available from: http://www.unhcr.org/afr/somaliaExternal.
  7. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Horn of Africa Somalia Situation. Available from: https://data2.unhcr.org/en/situations/hornExternal.
  8. Dadaab camp closure: Repatriation of Somali refugees ‘fails to meet international standards’. British Broadcasting Corporation. September 15, 2016; Available from: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-37369707External.
  9. Yackley AJ. Kenya will close world’s biggest refugee camp this year. Reuters. 2016 May.
  10. Trapped in Yemen Al Jazeera. January 14, 2015.
  11. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Yemen insecurity sees food supplies running out at Kharaz refugee camp. 2015 June 19; Available from: http://www.unhcr.org/en-us/news/briefing/2015/6/558417ff9/yemen-insecurity-sees-food-supplies-running-kharaz-refugee-camp.htmlExternal.
  12. Refugee Processing Center. Admissions Reports. 2010–2016.
  13. Refugee Processing Center. Arrivals by State and Nationality. 2010–2016.