From one diaspora to another

The American ambassador to Denmark on her initiative to bring Somali Danes and Somali Americans together

Following the recent trip of a delegation of Somali Danes to the US city of Minneapolis, The Copenhagen Post sat down with Laurie S Fulton, the American ambassador to Denmark, to talk about the innovative program she initiated involving the integration of Somalis in Denmark and the US.

How did this initiative come about?
I was on a trip to the US in part to visit the Scandinavian diaspora, but my trip also turned into a visit with the people who are doing the most interesting programmes with the Somali Minnesotans. I saw a lot of interesting and innovative programmes and I decided to invite the mayor of Aarhus over here and we put together a joint delegation of six high-level officials who should focus on what they are doing with new Somali Minnesotans, as well as convey the innovative things happening in Aarhus.

What was the goal?
We wanted to try to get the young Somali Danes and Somali Minnesotans talking to each other because they have similar issues with how to arrive in a new country, how to learn that new country’s system and how to get their parents to unpack their suitcase and understand that this is where they live now. We are all going to be well served if they become happy and productive citizens.

Were there any selection criteria?
Yes, the individuals were between the ages of 20-25 and about to enter into a career. And their English skills were good, obviously, so they could understand the language in the US. They were all actively involved in their communities and have a network that would make more of an impact.

Are there any plans to bring a group of Somali Americans to Denmark?
That’s the hope. We have been bringing them sort of one at a time, and we’ll try and get some more over here. That is a little more difficult for me to figure out how to fund, since the State Department doesn’t send Americans abroad. It sends people from abroad to the US for different kinds of learning experiences.

What are some of the obstacles Somalis face?
For the young people, they want to make their home here but they have similar issues to deal with in terms of parents, tribal elders, etc. The young ones say: “We are here, we're Danes, this is where we want to make our life”, so there is a little bit of a generational issue. It is the same in the US, so there are similar issues that the two groups face, regardless of which country they live in.

Young Somalis have left Minnesota, as well as Denmark, to go to Somalia to be trained as terrorists. Since 2007, at least 20 young Minneapolis men have left for Somalia, allegedly to take up arms in Somalia's civil war. Did this religious radicalisation influence your planning?
Yes, Minneapolis has had the same experience as Denmark has had, when Somalis have gone off to be trained somewhere and then want to come back and do bad things, but hopefully the initiative will help prevent that in the future.

Any moments in particular you remember?
I did an event at what used to be the Danish-American home, a home where Danes who retired in the US could live and be taken care of in Danish surroundings. But now it’s a culture centre, and the rooms have changed from retirement homes to more like youth hostel rooms. The young Somalis who visited last week from Scandinavia stayed there. I thought that was great, sort of like closing the circle.