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Minnesota leads nation in Somali immigrants

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Somali immigrant
Abdirahman Adan left Somalia to escape the country's violent civil war. He lived in a refugee camp in Kenya for nearly four years before moving to the United States. He's a student at the University of Minnesota.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

(AP) - Minnesota saw its third largest influx of immigrants in a quarter century in 2004, with immigrants from Somalia leading the pack.

      In all, 11,708 legal immigrants came to Minnesota in 2004, according to Department of Homeland Security data released by the State Demographic Center.

      That put the state at 16th nationally, but it was first in the number of Somali immigrants, at 1,445. Ohio was a distant second, with 572 Somali immigrants.

There's no place for them to return to in Africa. Somalia has no government and it's still very chaotic and dangerous.

      Faced with political turmoil and violent unrest in their home country, Somali refugees started coming to the U.S. in large numbers in the mid-1990s. Minnesota quickly became a favored destination, thanks at least in part to a number of well-organized groups established to help immigrants settle, such as Lutheran Social Services and Catholic Charities.

      The mid-'90s Minnesota economy was also a draw, said Barbara Ronningen of the State Demographic Center, offering plenty of job opportunities for immigrants who wanted them.

      Before long, Ronningen said, a Somali community started to establish itself.

      "It's fairly common in immigration, when there's a critical mass - a large group of people from the same places - that they will attract more people from their home country," she said.

      In 2004, the total number of Somali residents of Minnesota was estimated to be 25,000, and Ronningen said it could be as high as 30,000 now - with no sign of slowing down.

      "There's no place for them to return to in Africa," Ronningen said. "Somalia has no government and it's still very chaotic and dangerous."

      Of Minnesota's 11,708 immigrants last year, the largest number (4,319) came from Africa. That put the state at fifth in the nation for number of African immigrants, behind only California, New York, Texas and Maryland.

      Other countries well-represented among Minnesota's new immigrants in 2004 were Ethiopia, Mexico, India, the Philippines, China and Vietnam.

      The vast majority of Minnesota's immigrants, almost 84 percent, settled in the Twin Cities metropolitan area. 

                (Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)