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The socio-cultural adaptation of Somali refugees in Toronto: An exploration of their integration experiences

Hassan Ali Mohamed, University of Massachusetts Amherst


For the first time in recent history, Somali society has experienced the plight of a mass exodus. Millions have been displaced by civil war and have sought refuge in places thousands of miles away from their homelands. There are tens of thousands of Somali refugees in Canada; the majority settled in Metropolitan Toronto. Upon arrival, Somalis, still suffering from the trauma of war and uprooting, face the challenges of adapting to life in the post-modern Canadian society. Adaptation implies bridging the cultural differences between Somalia and Canada. This study, using ethnographic methods such as in-depth interviewing and participant observations, explores the socio-cultural experiences of Somali refugees in Toronto during the process of adaptation. The research questions focus on challenges Somalis face during the adaptation process, and the coping mechanisms they employ in response to the challenges they face. The study finds that, as recent migrants, Somali refugees have not achieved significant structural integration into the social, economic, and political structures of Canadian society. Dependence on social welfare assistance, a high rate of unemployment, limited educational pursuits, and social and residential segregation are features common among Somali refugees in Toronto. Factors that hinder their effective integration include lack of access to critical initial resettlement services; limited length of residence; limited proficiency in official languages of Canada; and prejudice, discrimination, and racism directed against them as Blacks and as Muslims. Internally, Somalis are making significant cultural adaptations by synthesizing elements of the two cultures. Younger Somalis are acquiring the values of their peers, which create intergenerational conflicts within the family. Religiosity among the adults and some youngsters is also on the rise. Somalis have created their own ethnic institutions such as businesses and community organizations to provide critical services. However, considering the salience of racism in Canada and the exclusion of Black ethnic groups from the economic, social, and political structures, it is unlikely that the experience of the Somalis in Canada would be significantly different than that of other Blacks. Most Somalis identify themselves first as Muslims, and second as Somalis, but others see them just as Blacks.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology|Minority & ethnic groups|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Mohamed, Hassan Ali, "The socio-cultural adaptation of Somali refugees in Toronto: An exploration of their integration experiences" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3027232.