Despite its long history of migration and the massive diversity that continues today, with over a third of London residents today having been born abroad – how you look and what you’re called can stop you landing a job; at least, that’s what many young migrants believe.
“I’m finding it difficult to find my career path because of my background”, says Abshir Ahmed, 24, a British citizen of Somali origin – the largest ethnic minority in the capital. He graduated a year ago in chemical engineering, but has been unable to break into the sector, and is currently working in logistics. “It’s not an excuse, but I’ve had clear cases where people look at me and think I might not fit into this society or the group that they have.” Nor is this an isolated case, he believes.
“A lot of my [Somali] friends that finished university together find it difficult to find a job. When you go to interviews people are a bit reluctant because they think, he has a Muslim name, he might not fit into the group.” And, Abshir says, it’s more about who you know than what you know – something that puts his community at a disadvantage. “It’s all about networking, [but] a lot of my family or community members are not in the workplace.”
Abshir (24), a second-generation Somali in London, graduated a year ago in chemical engineering, but can’t break into the industry. He tells us why:
Faisa Abdi, 22, a student of African politics, agrees: “We’re the first ones to go to university”, she says. “Everyone else – their family’s got good connections”. Kafia Omar, 25, is happy with her job in a human rights organisation, but says she knows “a lot of people who struggled for a really long time to try and find something, and they feel it’s maybe their background or how they’re perceived that holds them back.”
For some young Somalis, parental expectations also have to be overcome. Iqraa Mohamed, 19, wants to study politics, but says her parents are “not keen” on the idea – partly because “mostly in parliament you see that its a male middle class and white dominated area.” But it’s also about her origins: “[Because] I’m from a war-torn country, [my parents] feel like I have privilege to be here and get education, so I should make the most of it – getting into politics is not making the most of it – the pay is not that high.”
Iqraa (19), a second-generation Somali in London, talks about her parents’ expectations for her career and explains why breaking into politics seems difficult:
Faisa, also of Somali origin, felt the same pressure. “I studied international politics and every day my parents are sad about that!”, she laughs. “They tell me: there’s still time to change to do medicine. Even when I told them I’m going to do my master in politics, they were like: ‘Are you sure you don’t want to become a midwife?’ I hate blood!”
“Definitely, some migrants feel they have to change their names to get a job interview”, says Anne Stoltenberg, a project manager at the London-based NGO Migrant Voice. Even the term ‘migrant’ itself has negative connotations (partly why EU officials prefer to talk about ‘mobility’ than migration). Yet, says Anne, “the reality is there is a first and second tier in Europe… it’s fine if you’re from Denmark, but not if from Romania. There isn’t an equal mobility in Europe.”