DuluthMINNEAPOLIS — Halima Ibrahim’s adult children pleaded with her not to go back to Somalia. Friends attending the Minneapolis memorial for her husband, a civil engineer gunned down in Mogadishu last November, assumed she’d stay in Minnesota.

But Ibrahim is flying to Mogadishu this week, with new resolve to pitch in for her war-torn country’s comeback.

In the past two years, some local Somali-Americans have headed back to the East African country as it starts slowly emerging from two decades of fighting and chaos. The trend has become a frequent topic of discussion in the Somali community and the focus of a newly released study from the University of Minnesota.

The returnees face many hurdles: a shortage of amenities, a sometimes tense relationship with compatriots who stayed during the civil war and security concerns heightened by the assassination of Ibrahim’s husband, Abdullahi Ali Anshoor. But advocates of this return migration say expatriates from places like Minnesota will be crucial to Somalia’s fragile recovery, with potential benefits to their host communities, as well.

“My response always is, ‘If we all go back to our host countries, who will rebuild Somalia?’ ” Ibrahim said. “If I re-establish Somalia, I will also help Minnesota.”

In spring 2013, Zainab Hassan attended a conference in Mogadishu; she was struck by changes since her last visit. Two years earlier on a trip from Minnesota, she had seen war-gutted buildings and heard the thud of heavy weapons from parts of the city still contested by Al-Shabab.

By 2013, the militants had retreated. Construction cranes rose across Mogadishu. New businesses were cropping up with bids by expats to recreate pieces of their host communities, from a dollar store to a pizza restaurant that delivers. Inspired by this new energy and improved security, Hassan jumped at a chance to stay.

“Everybody says, ‘I thought Mogadishu was terrible, and I would be killed if I came back,’ ” Hassan said. “But things have changed dramatically.”

The arrival of a permanent government in late 2012 triggered a burst of optimism in the 1.5-million-strong Somali diaspora worldwide — and more trips back home. In fall 2013, University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School researchers joined forces with colleagues in Oslo and Mogadishu to study the phenomenon, paid for by a Norwegian foreign affairs ministry grant.

In dozens of interviews with returnees, patterns emerged: Most expats returned for stints of less than a year or for a series of shorter trips, still wary of long-term commitments to Somalia. The majority of nearly 30 Minnesota interviewees were highly educated and active in the Twin Cities. One-third were women.

Local Somalis voice frustration that a focus on Somali-American youths who traveled to Africa to join terrorist groups has overshadowed the other homecoming stories. “Those of us in the community know there is a far greater number of people returning to Somalia with good intentions,” said Ahmed Muhumud, a study research fellow.

(Duluth News Tribune)