This week, the Somali community in Wandsworth protested their treatment at the hands of Wandsworth social services. Kate Bradley reports.
Around 200 protesters filled the street outside the offices of Wandsworth Council in south London on Monday to protest what they describe as the “heavy-handedness” of Wandsworth social services in their treatment of the local Somali community. They were protesting in support of Ms Kaaha Mohamud, claiming “solid evidence of abuse of power” by Wandsworth social services in handling her case, since she risks losing her children and does not feel her case has been dealt with properly. Their signs and chants displayed a wider anger with council treatment of local families, showing messages such as “End marginalization. Treat us humanely.”
The demonstration was loud and led predominantly by Somali mothers and families, many with their small children. Other demonstrators came to argue against the closure of SureStart centres, linking together different struggles faced by the community.
Some protesters were most concerned with the mother’s right to care for her own children, while others linked the case with wider treatment of Muslims and the Somali community in Britain, chanting “we want justice!” and “no justice, no peace!”, a slogan also used on anti-racist demonstrations and protests against discriminatory policing and police violence.
Sahel Ali, an advocate with campaigning group United Voice and Partners, encouraged people to spread the word about Ms Mohamud’s case and the wider treatment of families by social workers, arguing for the foundation of an independent commission that could ensure social workers’ accountability, especially in their work in marginalized communities. “Some members of the community feel that Islamophobia could be part of what is happening here. We are blamed for the actions of terrorists in other countries when it is nothing to do with us, when we are just trying to contribute to this country. But this is also a nationwide problem. Social services are too eager to take children into care, and sometimes rely on false reasons without giving the mother a right to reply.”
Estimates from the Office of National Statistics in 2014 suggest around 114,000 Somali migrants live in the UK, a large number of whom arrived in the 80s and 90s to escape the Somali Civil War. Many face unlawful immigration detention during or after their asylum-seeking process. The Somali community in Britain also faces high levels of poverty, with over 80% of Somali-speaking school pupils eligible for free school meals in 2013, and higher unemployment rates than the rest of the population. In recent years,the government’s Prevent policies have turned social services into a relationship of surveillance and discrimination for Muslims in Britain, many of whom are from Somali backgrounds. Children as young as three have been reported for showing so-called ‘signs of radicalisation’.
The demonstrators’ petition foregrounded the way that Somali families’ treatment by social services compounds the oppression already experienced by their community: “The news of Ms Kaaha Mohamud losing her children to care has shocked thousands of people and is the latest example of how the lives of already marginalized, isolated and badly treated Somali families are destroyed silently and away from proper scrutiny[.]”
If you would like to read and add your name to their petition, or show your support, please contact United Voice at firstname.lastname@example.org.