He found his father lying in bed, gasping for air. “Just call an ambulance,” the father told Dakhare. At an Oslo hospital, Dakhare’s father tested positive for COVID-19 and was treated for a few days before he was discharged to finish his recovery at home. The Dakhare family’s story is a familiar one among Somalis in Norway and other Nordic countries, where the pandemic is taking a disproportionate toll on some immigrant groups. Governments in Sweden, Norway and Finland are taking extra steps to try to slow the spread of the disease in these communities.
Across Europe, little is known about who is affected by the virus because governments are releasing limited demographic information about the sick and those who die. But a Reuters examination of government data in three Nordic countries where more details are available shows that some immigrant groups are among those affected at higher rates than the general populace.
In Norway, where 15% of residents were born abroad, 25% who had tested positive for COVID-19 by April 19 were foreign-born. Somalis, with 425 confirmed cases, are the largest immigrant group testing positive, accounting for 6% of all confirmed cases — more than 10 times their share of the population.
Somalis are the most overrepresented immigrant group among Sweden’s confirmed cases, as well. Their 283 positive tests account for about 5% of the nearly 6,000 cases documented between March 13 and April 7. That’s seven times their share of the population. Iraqis, Syrians and Turks also made up disproportionately large shares of positive cases.
In Finland’s capital city of Helsinki, the mayor said it was “worrying” that almost 200 Somalis had tested positive by mid-April. They accounted for about 17% of positive cases — 10 times their share of the city’s population.
More than 100,000 Somalia-born live in the three countries, mostly in Sweden and Norway, one of the largest Somali diasporas in the world. Many arrived as refugees of war in the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s. Several factors place them more at risk of getting sick, public health officials and researchers say.
It is common in all three countries for multiple generations of Somalis to live, like the Dakhares do, in crowded apartments, making it easier for the virus to spread from one family member to the next. They also tend to work in high-contact jobs — healthcare workers, drivers and cleaners, for example — with a higher risk for exposure.