Economic Activity in Newly Arrived East African Communities.

[This article was submitted as research evidence for the Inclusive Economic Growth KLOE Reference Group.]

 Significant numbers of East African migrants have arrived in the UK and inBirminghamin the last 10 years. The largest number are Somali but there are also Eritreans and Sudanese.

There is limited data on the number of Somalis in Birmingham as the main source is the 2001 census which took place before most of the migration occurred.  The 2011 census data, which will include ethnicity, will not be available until 2013.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated in 2011 that the Black African population for the UKhas increased, from 494,900 in 2001 to 798,800 in 2009.[1] ONS has also estimated that the Black African population in Birmingham increased by 6,600 from 2001 to 2004 [2]. Of course, this does not include the East Africans who have arrived inBirmingham since 2004.

However ONS does not distinguish between different black African groups. There are different issues attached to communities from Zimbabwe, who are English speaking and Somalis, Eritreans and Sudanese who have English language needs in order to be economically successful.

Farhiya works in a shop selling wedding dresses for Somali women. “I’ve been here since 2001. We came fromHolland. ” I’m doing A-levels now and I’d like to travel around in future. I speak English well partly because of watching American sitcoms inHolland. “I would love to help my people. But I don’t know what it’s like to live in Somalia.”



The East African migrants include highly entrepreneurial individuals who have the ability to access capital from within their own communities. They tend to provide services and import or manufacture goods for the East African Community. These include social enterprise activities setting up centres to provide ESOL classes and childcare but also small businesses importing or manufacturing and selling clothing, foodstuffs and household goods. Many of these small scale entrepreneurs are women. There are some East African shopping centres being set up for small businesses, one example is The Somali Village onParliament St, Small Heath. There are also an increasing number of East African restaurants being set up acrossBirmingham.

Although economic activity is occurring there are also barriers to the establishment of businesses and to growth. The Somali and East African community in general tend to feel there is a lack of support from Birmingham City Council. They feel shut out of provision available to other ethnic groups.

There is a need for the City to provide greater support for businesses. This includes English language teaching to enable businesses to operate effectively and also a need for basic training in theUKbusiness law and regulation. This is particularly the case as some of the individuals setting up businesses will have operated in two or more different countries so clarity on British business regulation is essential.

“I have just opened this shop here in Birmingham. “I am a businesswoman now and I was a businesswoman in Somalia. I owned a similar shop there selling women’s products. “I came from Mogadishu fleeing civil war and guns. My father and brother were killed in the violence. “

IfBirminghamis to achieve economic success at all levels including micro businesses and SMEs, which will develop jobs for the most deprived and isolated groups, then supporting and enabling recently arrive groups to be economically successful is essential.

Selina Stewart – Member of the Inclusive Economic Growth KLOE Reference Group.

[1] Population Estimates by Ethnic Group 2002 – 2009, 18 May 2011

[2]  Mapping of Race and Poverty inBirmingham, Alessio Cangiano – ESRC Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS,University ofOxford)

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