Somalis first entered Canada in 1988 after the destruction of north western Somalia, and in larger numbers in 1991 after the outbreak of civil war in the southern part of the country. The majority of refugees originally arrived in the United States and, after long and harsh cross-examinations, received refugee status in Canada.

The growing Somali community is considered to be one of the most disadvantaged among the visible and ethnic minorities. The majority have had to cope not only with living in an alien culture without the traditional support system of the extended family, but also with not being able to speak either of the two official languages, English or French.

Somalis experience a high rate of unemployment and, in general, struggle to survive. Settling as claimants (asylum seekers), Somalis were ineligible for many government programmes available to newcomers. For example, landed immigrants (those granted refugee status as well as other, non-refugee immigrants) receive effective government programmes established to assist them in integrating into Canada such as language classes and skill training. As such, many Somalis do not have access to such programmes until their claims are settled.

Women comprise about 60 per cent of the total adult Somali population and are arguably the most vulnerable sector of the community. It is estimated that the majority of Somali women in Canada are single mothers. Many have lost their husbands in the war, resulting in a great number of Somali families headed by single mothers. Single Somali women endure extreme obstacles in Canada including gender discrimination, language difficulties, and sole responsibility for child-rearing with a lack of any support system.