More youths from the self-declared republic of Somaliland are illegally migrating from the region, mainly due to a lack of jobs, traveling through Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya on their way to Europe, say officials.
“There is no exact data, but we estimate that in the last three months of 2011, only 150 youth [illegally migrated], compared to this year's last three months, [in which the number was] 300 to 350 persons," Sa'id Omar, youth department director at Somaliland's Ministry of Youth and Sports, told IRIN.
About 150 Somaliland youths were repatriated back between January and November 2011, after Ethiopian authorities captured them along the Ethiopian-Sudan border; by comparison, 200 youths were repatriated in the first 11 months of 2012, according to Somaliland immigration officials in the border town of Tog-Wajale, along the Ethiopia-Somaliland border.
“We don't [encourage] any illegal migrants to cross the border, but sometimes they cross the open border between Somaliland and Ethiopia and continue on their way to the Sahara Desert to cross the Mediterranean [Sea]," said an immigration official in Tog-Wajale.
Mohamed*, now in Norway, illegally migrated there in early 2012. “I started my journey on 13 March, [travelling] through Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya at a cost of US$5000 for the whole journey. We were connected to brokers in Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya,” he said.
“As soon as we reached the Libyan border town of Sabha we were handed over like animals to a Libyan man who earns $800 per individual, but he beat us and tortured us using electric wires. Later, we were taken by a Land Cruiser pick-up to Tripoli, where we found some Somali-Arab brokers who rented for us the boat [to Europe].”
Joblessness is fuelling the illegal migration, even though the journey carried inherent risks such as abuse, debt, deportation and imprisonment.
“The high rate of unemployment is Somaliland is considered the main factor that encourages youths to [undertake] illegal migration," said Mohamed-Rashid Muhumed Farah, the secretary general of the Somaliland Journalists Association. "For example, I was in Addis Ababa [Ethiopia's capital] in 2011 when we met about 30 Somaliland youths who wanted to go to Europe, and they told us that the main reason they were going was lack of employment in the country.”
According to Ali Osman Abdi-Liba, a political scientist, youths with higher educations are also more likely to leave Somaliland.
“University students feel proud, and they have high hopes. In the first two years, [they are] interested in studying, but in the last two years of university [their] hopes decrease because [they] know former university students [who] are in the town without jobs. For this reason, as soon as they finish university, if they don't get jobs, they will [be] frustrated and [undertake] illegal migration,” he said.
Abdi-Liba called for the creation of technical schools, as these skills are needed in the market.
The Somaliland government is set to establish a youth employment fund, to be funded at about US$130 million initially, which will be raised from the privatization of former government buildings, according to Bashe Yusuf Ahmed, the director general in the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.
“We hope that international donors will also contribute, and about 50,000 jobs will be created in the coming years to decrease the unemployment rate from 80 percent to 20 percent,” said Ahmed.