Hundreds of British teenagers are being sent by their parents to East Africa to avoid knife crime in the UK, representatives of the Somali community say. Why are they taking this drastic choice?
Some names have been changed to protect the identity of the interviewees.
“In those few years I was doing my A-levels it was tough. Just seeing people being dropped every other day, being stabbed,” Yusuf tells the Victoria Derbyshire programme from his new home in Kenya.
“London’s not the place to be for a teenager.”
Yusuf was born and raised in London but moved to Nairobi after a close friend in his neighbourhood was stabbed to death.
It is a decision an increasing number of parents are taking, for their children’s safety.
Of the 100 people stabbed to death in the UK so far this year, 8% were of Somali heritage, according to the Rise Projects which works with young British Somalis in north London.
Jamal Hassan mentors young men in London, many from Somali families. He explains parents “want to protect that child by all means necessary”.
“If it means that child doesn’t finish school, college, university or he will not have a good job by the time you come for them the future is not really important.
“What’s important is that child’s life.”
One mother who had sent her child to Africa told him she could now sleep at night, because she knew any police sirens she heard were not for her son.
‘Sense of freedom’
Jamal went to Kenya as a teenager, when he says problems for him in London “were at their peak”.
He says there are parallels with the present day.
“One of the things I’ll never forget, is the fact that when you walk in the streets in Kenya you don’t have to look over your shoulder.
“Here I could travel in and out of the city, go and visit whoever I wanted, and it was good. I felt a sense of freedom.
“But for these kids [in London that can be] life and death.”
Others, such as Abdul, who is in his early 20s, left London because they had started to get into trouble with the police.
“When I came here it was like a clean sheet,” Abdul said.
“No-one knew me, no-one knows my history. There [in London], you have people that look like you going after you.
“My mum feels I’m much safer here than anywhere else in the world.”
Parents say they do not view the move as a long-term solution – some children stay in Africa while others return.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advises against all travel to Somalia, including Somaliland, and highlights a heightened threat of terrorism and kidnappings, across Kenya.
But Amina sent her 15-year-old son to Somaliland, when she was worried about the new friends with whom he was mixing.
In his year there, she says he became a studious child again.
He had even wanted to stay in East Africa.
But within 17 days of being brought back to the UK in November 2018, he was stabbed four times.
“He’s been completely traumatised by the experience,” she says.
“They damaged his bladder, his kidneys, his liver. He’s got permanent damage.
“He was safer there [in Somaliland] than he was here… 100% more safe than in London.”
The new mayor for Islington, Rakhia Ismail – a mother of four who came to London from Somalia as a refugee – believes that some areas of the city are unsafe for young people.
“Does the parent wait for her child to be killed? Or does the parent take a decision – quite a drastic decision – to take him all the way back to wherever that child is from originally?”
She says she knows families who are waiting for their children to finish primary school so they can leave the UK.
She estimates that out of every five Somalian families, two are taking their children back home.
Dr Fatumo Abdi – a mother of Somali origin – said parents were struggling to know how to react to knife crime.
“This is not something they’ve encountered before. But we know living here in Britain, the context is Britain. This is a British problem and it’s a problem that we’ve fallen into.
“It’s not the answer but these are desperate parents.”
She believes poverty, inequality and exposure to violence are big factors as to why young people fall into criminality.
“Our communities are living in very poor disadvantaged areas with poor educational attainment. All these things affect how our children move through the world.”
Rhoda Ibrahim, who runs the Somali Advice and Forum of Information, which supports Somali mothers, says that as many of them have poor English, they are forced to take jobs such as cleaning, which lead them to being away from their families for long periods of time.
“When you get sent back to your country by your parents, it’s the worst feeling,” says Mohamed, who lived in Kenya for six and then nine months.
He was sent there after being excluded and sent to a pupil referral unit when no other school in his area would accept him.
“It feels like you’re going to prison, and your mum’s the judge. You can’t come back until the judge has let you free.
“You have to show that you’re good, you’ve changed.”
But he feels like it has made him a “better person”.
“I could have been out on the streets right now selling drugs, but… the kids in Kenya put school first.”