Bristol's Somali community disproportionately affected by coronavirus

  • Watch the full report by our reporter Max Walsh

Bristol's Somali community has been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic due to a combination of high infection rates, housing issues and low-paid precarious jobs, a report has found.

The Somali community is the largest ethnic minority in Bristol with an estimated 10,000 people living in the city, predominantly in areas like Lawrence Hill, Easton and St Paul's.

These areas now have some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country.The report by the Bristol Somali Forum and Bristol Somali Youth Voice has laid bare how the virus has affected the community both in terms of lives lost and the long-term financial impact.

Mohamed Sayaqle, the author of the report, said: "The housing inequality is a big issue in this area. The people who live in flats during the lockdown were forced to stay inside. That was hard for large families.

"Then you have got people who live in Lawrence Hill and Easton are then working low-paid public facing jobs meaning they are more likely to catch the virus and bring it home."

Read more: Parts of South West may still face tough restrictions when lockdown ends

One person said: "I was hospitalised. My wife was hospitalised. And my child was hospitalised. It was difficult. Only two of our children didn’t have any problem.

"There are rumours about hospital. Somali people say that if you go in, you will never come out. That is what many people believe. So they think it is better to stay at home."In a survey conducted over the summer, more than two thirds of almost 50 respondents said their family or close friends had been hospitalised due to the virus. The figures suggest Bristol's Somali community has experienced at higher rates of infection compared to other groups in the city. 

The report also found there is mistrust from some in the community who fear going into hospital. It is believed this stems from a lack of communication with some elders unable to speak English.

My mother and my sister both work in low paid jobs. That is the real difference for health inequalities. They both got COVID because they had to carry on working. There is no safety for them.

- anonymous member of the Somali community in Bristol

One person said: "I’m just looking for a job, any job, really anything at all that pays the bills. I’ve had no success at all, just a lot of rejections. I know that I have to rethink my career."Of those surveyed, 56 per cent said lockdown has impacted their financial situation or employment. The report found many in the community worked for frontline services like the NHS or on zero-hour contracts in other jobs such as delivering parcels or driving taxis.

The authors of the report say this exposure to people could have placed them more at risk of catching the virus.

Housing conditions are thought to be partly to blame for high coronavirus rates

"For children, lockdown was like being in a prison. They kept asking us, ‘why can’t we go outside?’

"They didn’t really understand our explanations. Their behaviour changed. They became angry, upset, despondent."

Many of Bristol's Somali community live in areas like Barton Hill and Lawrence Hill.

Half of people surveyed said the pandemic led to housing problems, with more than 75 per cent of parents saying their children's behavior became worse during lockdown.

Some Somali families were confined to flats with limited access to green space during the first lockdown making home-schooling almost impossible.

Today city leaders are discussing the report to see what can be done to address 'the inequality' the virus has exposed. It's hoped this will include improved communication, data and support in inner-city areas.


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