MOGADISHU - Since the war in Syria broke out a decade ago, refugees have fled to countries in the Middle East and Europe as well as to countries in Africa that face instability, like Somalia. But now Somali officials say Syrian refugees are enriching the host nation culturally and economically.
Zakariye Azerkan is a Syrian refugee who fled civil war in his homeland two years ago to seek opportunities in Somalia, a country that is still recovering from internal conflict.
Now he is chef and manager of Alwarda Alshamia, a popular Syrian restaurant in Mogadishu.
He says he expects other Syrians will find opportunities here and open new projects, even though Somalia is still emerging from war. There are Syrian dentists who have already opened clinics, he says, and other doctors with various specializations who operate medical centers in Mogadishu.
Azerkan’s restaurant serves as a meeting place for Mogadishu’s Syrian community. Recent arrivals to the city come here for orientation.
Thirteen-year-old Mohamed Musa and his family arrived in Mogadishu just a few days ago. They dine with Somali locals, who are now accustomed to Syrian cuisine.
Musa says that he urges all Syrian immigrants or even Somalis to come to this restaurant because the food here is irresistible. He says it feels as if he was back in his home country.
Dr. Mohamud Salih is among the Syrian refugee medical professionals offering their skills to a country that lost most of its skilled workers to civil war, poverty and years of lawlessness.
Salih has been in Somalia for the past four years and has fully integrated with the local community. The dental surgeon runs one of the best-equipped clinics in Mogadishu and is credited for performing safe, successful operations.
Salih says he has settled here with his family.
Since he has been in Mogadishu for four years with his wife and children, he says he considers himself a Somali citizen. He said his children are now attending Somali schools. Salih says his family also consider themselves as Somali.
Syrians who chose to find refuge in Somalia away from their war-torn country may have been driven by the good historical relations between the two countries. In their peace times, both countries shared similar political ideologies.
Abdulwahab Sheikh is a Somali scholar and an expert on international relations and culture.
He says there has been a long-standing relationship between the two nations that begun during the military regime that ruled Somalia and the Baath-led government in Syria. These strong bilateral relations remained and after Syria became engulfed in civil war, some opted to come to Somalia, where there are no visa restrictions for Syrian citizens.
There is no official data on the number of Syrian refugees living in Mogadishu, and not all are as successful as Azerkan and Salih. What is clear is that many of these refugees are making a positive contribution to the local economy and culture.