The Khat ban will disproportionately impact on the Somali community: Community leaders
Posted by samira on June 17 2014 11:04:40
Yesterday the Bristol Somali Community met with senior Service Directors in their local Council and the most senior police officer in charge of all operations. The meeting which took place at the Council House renamed City Hall by Bristol’s first elected independent mayor George Ferguson was organised by the Somali Forum, a coordinating body for Somali led organisation in the city and was attended by representatives from Somali community including elders, business leaders and service providers.

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Yesterday the Bristol Somali Community met with senior Service Directors in their local Council and the most senior police officer in charge of all operations. The meeting which took place at the Council House renamed City Hall by Bristol’s first elected independent mayor George Ferguson was organised by the Somali Forum, a coordinating body for Somali led organisation in the city and was attended by representatives from Somali community including elders, business leaders and service providers.

The Somali community representatives present at the meeting once again reiterated the disproportionate impact the ban was going to have on the community. It was agreed that, while this was the case, the vast majority of the community supported the ban on social grounds.

However, what this meeting aimed to do from the beginning and did do according to the Somali representatives was to strike a bargain and advocate for better community and public services for the Somali community and more support for the organisations that assist them after the ban sets in next week.

“Those who stop chewing need culturally sensitive and tailored support to be even prepared to use mainstream services confidently,” said Fuad Mahamed the Chief Executive Officer of Ashley Community Housing, a supported housing organisation which specialises in assisting refugees integrate into UK life. “”When Khat is banned former chewers will need avenues of meaningful support to direct them and set them off on their journey to employment through education, training and housing support.”

All the service Directors and representatives of statutory agencies agreed with the need for culturally sensitive support and Policing. They asked the Somali community to contribute towards informing what they will be and how they will be delivered and to actively engage with the process of putting together a Khat plan which can be used across the city.

Most of the Somali organisations across the UK which work with Somalis directly are inadequately funded and rely heavily on volunteers. This method of service delivery in a time of austerity and acute need was challenged by the Somali community representatives. The Service Directors agreed that this model may not be sustainable and expressed their interest in working with the community and the organisations that support them to see how this can be addressed.

The community meeting with the key officials and those responsible for service planning and delivery in areas such as Neighbourhoods and Community Cohesion came only a week before the actual ban kick in on the 24th June 2014. The timing was not coincidental. The Bristol Somali Forum and its members had lobbied hard to make it happen.

“We need a coherent strategy to address our community’s social and economic situation as a result of the khat ban,” said Omar Sabriye, a community elder in Bristol and a member of the Somali Elders Group. “In this meeting the Somali community needs to get the best deal out of the ban. We need to negotiate for better and targeted services for our community.”

One area of key concern which most of the community members present at the meeting did not feel was well addressed was the issue of the Khat bans impact on traders who will effectively be criminals if they continue trading on the 24th of June.

“Although there was talk of support in the form of training and re-education for the purpose of business diversification and seeking alternative employment, there no evidence of a concrete policy in place to support traders who will lose their livelihoods on the 24th June,” said Hussein Marsal the media and marketing manager for the Somali National TV branch in Bristol and chair and founder of the Bristol Somali Business Association. “Those who sell khat are exporters, importers and direct sellers. There will be many job losses as a result of the ban.”

Mr. Hussein was joined in his Bristol office in Barton Hill by Khat sellers who wanted to air their concern’s but did not want their names revealed due to fears of future stereotyping and Police targeting.

“I am selling Khat now in Bristol but I have a branch in London too and next Tuesday I have no business or job,” said one trader.
“They say to me for two years “Get job! Get job! At Jobcentre and the Jobcentre did not help me. When I start my own business now they want to make me unemployed,” shouted another trader angrily.

After the meeting Hussein Marsal explained that most of the Khat sellers that have asked to join his organisations were very confused, isolated and did not know where to turn. He went on to argue that the reasons they entered the Khat selling business in the first place was to create opportunities for themselves that they could not find in the mainstream employment market.

“A 2006 academic paper on BME Business owner’s experiences carried out by the Manchester University Business School argued that BME business owners were Pushed rather Pulling themselves into self-employment due to discrimination in the labour market and poor language skills and lack of support towards integrating on the part of service providers,” stated Hussein. “This finding is wholly representative of the Somali Khat traders experiences. The only difference is that it is not documented and never will be because as of next week they will not exist or if they do will be criminals.”

Hussein Maral, like most at the meeting with service Directors and statutory service providers in Bristol, were confident that most Somali traders and Khat users will obey the law after the ban. However, he worries that his community will be short changed by those that ought to help them if they do not collectively advocate today for the changes they want to see after khat is banned next Tuesday.