- Coping with environmental change: the experience of Somali refugee women in a West London housing estate
- Atubo, Mildred; Batterbury, Simon
- London School of Economics
- Aug 2001
This paper aims to examine how refugee women from Somalia have adapted to an unfamiliar, urban environment in West London.
The paper is based on both primary and secondary research. The primary research involved the distribution of questionnaires to Somali women who arrived in the UK between 1989 and 1995. 17 women living in the South Acton estate in Ealing completed the questionnaire which sought information on education, food consumption, language, dress, housing quality, used of local facilities and health issues. The authors also conducted a two day survey of the South Acton estate in Ealing in order to assess the accessibility of the estate for residents. The elements examined for accessibility include the main entrance, pavements, transport, leisure facilities and visual appearance.
As a result of secondary research on relevant literature the authors concluded that women are more likely to come into contact with air pollution than men on a regular basis in urban areas. It was also observed that the health of immigrant groups is generally poorer than the general population. Additionally, individuals who may be part of a polygamous family cannot openly and freely live as a family because of legal restrictions.
The key findings from the primary research are as follows:
• few of the respondents spoke English well;
• a majority have maintained their way of dressing as they used to while living in Somali;
• some of the respondents had a dilemma over wanting to maintain their traditional way of dress at the same time as not wanting to attract negative attention;
• some of the respondents were suspicious of the services offered by the local Somali advice centre as they felt that advice was biased and determined by clan membership;
• respondents reported bad housing quality which included problems with damp and lack of space which may be the cause of health problems;
• respondents indicated a decline in their health which can be attributed to a change in their environment;
• Somali women are not fully utilising the facilities provided by the local authority.
The local council is working towards improving the general appearance of the estate. However, Somali refugee families may not benefit from these improvements as much as other residents. For example, none of the respondents were aware that they could apply for allotment space and a majority of the respondents reported that they had been attacked by local youths which meant that they were too afraid to use outdoor, communal spaces.
Conclusions and recommendations
Somali women are finding it hard to adapt to their urban environment for reasons of ill health, poor quality housing and environmental pollution. There is a lack of awareness amongst Somali women about the services available to them and a lack of English language ability makes it difficult for them to adapt. Fear of attacks mean that Somali women may be more likely to stay indoors for longer periods which has a negative impact on health and also reduces the possibility for interaction with the local community. Attacks on Somali refugee families need to be investigated and dealt with appropriately by the local authorities and Somali families need to be encouraged to report incidents. There is also potential to encourage Somalis to join refugee groups from other countries and to participate in more training and education.
- Resource Type
- Research report