New Somali refugee arrivals in Minnesota are increasing
After a dip in 2008, a second wave of Somali refugees is arriving in the state. But with fewer family ties, this group faces a new set of challenges.

A week after the United States government resettled them in Con-necticut this summer, Nur Ali and his wife, Mahado Mohamed, had decided: They were moving to Minnesota.
Tales of the state’s large Somali community had intrigued them back in the Kenyan refugee camp where they had married and had five children. Now, a Somali man they met in Hartford told them all recent arrivals head to Minnesota, home of “Little Mogadishu.”
After a major dip in 2008, the yearly numbers of new Somali refu-gees in Minnesota have rebounded steadily. The number of Somalis resettled in the state has more than tripled in four years. As resettlements nationally have picked up, more Somalis are also arriving here after brief stints in other states — often trading early support from resettlement agencies for the company of more fellow Somalis.
“You tend to go somewhere you can connect,” said Mohamud Noor, the head of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. “Before people even arrive from Africa, they know they are coming to Minnesota.”
But without the Twin Cities family ties of earlier arrivals, these newcomers often can’t lean as heavily on longer-term Somali residents. Mary’s Place, a Minneapolis homeless shelter, has be-come ground zero for families like Ali and Mohamed’s. Somali participation in the state’s public food assistance program doubled in the past five years. Meanwhile, the Minneapolis School District, its Somali student enrollment up 70 percent since 2011, launched eight classrooms with instruction in both English and Somali to help newcomers catch up.
In some ways, Ali and Mohamed have had a steeper learning curve than Somalis who settled in Minnesota in the 1990s and early 2000s. The couple spent their entire adult lives in tents at Kenya’s sprawling, overcrowded Hagadera refugee camp. They didn’t have family or close friends who resettled in America before them, and their notion of life in the United States was forged out of camp leg-end.



Somali immigrants Nur Ali, right, and his wife, Mahado Mohamed, left, sat with their six children in their apartment at Mary’s Place transitional housing in downtown Minneapolis. The family arrived in the U.S. four months ago, first landing in Connecticut before coming to Minnesota.
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“We always used to think when you come to America, you have a lot of money and life is really easy,” Ali said through a translator. “We have been surprised.”
Ali and Mohamed are part of a new wave of Somali refugees. Until 2008, the state resettled only refugees reuniting with family here.
But that year, DNA tests showed only about 20 percent of appli-cants in a refugee family reunification program, most of them from Africa, were actually related to their stateside sponsors. The program was suspended, even as Somalis argued a broader defini-tion of family was as much a factor as fraud. The number of new Somali arrivals plummeted, from a high of more than 3,200 in 2006 to 180 in 2009.
Meanwhile, more stringent background checks for refugees in 2010 snarled the application process. Larry Bartlett, the U.S. Refugee Admissions program director, says the streamlining of security checks since and the resumption of the family reunification program in 2012 led to the recent increase in Somali arrivals — a trend he expects to continue in the next few years.
In the fiscal year that ended in September, Minnesota welcomed al-most 1,050 Somali refugees arriving directly from Africa, most of them without family ties to the state. Nationally, 9,000 Somalis were resettled, up from about 2,500 in 2008.
No ‘out-migration’
The exact numbers of Somalis moving to Minnesota from other states are hard to track. But there’s little doubt their ranks have swelled, too. The federal Office of Refugee Resettlement compiles partial numbers showing about 2,620 total refugee arrivals from other states in 2013, up from 1,835 two years earlier — making Minnesota the state with the highest in-migration by far.
“This has always been an issue for Minnesota,” said Kim Dettmer of Lutheran Social Service, one of the agencies that helps resettle refugees who come directly to Minnesota. “We have in-migration. We don’t really have out-migration.”