Smugglers are increasingly kidnapping migrant Somaliland youths for ransom
HARGEISA, 26 July 2013 (IRIN) - The government of the self-declared republic of Somaliland will stiffen penalties for human trafficking to stem illegal migration, particularly by the region's youths.
"Of course there is an article in Somaliland's penal code dealing with this issue, but we think it is not deterrent enough. For this reason, the government plans to pass new laws to prevent human smuggling," Mohamed Osman Dube, Somaliland's administrative director in the interior ministry, told IRIN.
At present, Article 457 of Somaliland’s penal code identifies the selling and purchasing of humans as slaves as offences punishable by prison terms of 3 to 12 years. Article 466 further provides for a three-year prison term for those found guilty of engaging in physical abuse, according to Mustafe Mahdi, a Somaliland lawyer.
The new laws are aimed at reducing irregular migration from Somaliland to Ethiopia and onwards to Sudan, Libya and Europe. When passed, they are expected to include tougher punishments for smugglers and to provide ways to rehabilitate youth migrants, added Dube.
While solid figures on human trafficking in Somaliland are not available, in late June, Somaliland President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud (Silanyo) nominated a ministerial committee to address the problem, expressing concern over growing youth mass migration and related deaths.
According to a recent survey by the community-based Somaliland Youth Ambition Development Group (SYADG), for example, at least 15 Somaliland youths died in May in the Sahara desert, between Libya and Sudan, either from being shot dead by smugglers or due to the harsh conditions. The 15 were part of a group of 325 youths, from which 31 are still missing, with 83 and 80 others in Libyan and Tunisian prisons, respectively, according to SYADG spokesperson Ahmed Jamal.
Most of the youths migrating from Somaliland have been from poorer families, but those from better-off families are increasingly risking the perilous journey to Europe.
"When I was looking for my son, I received a phone call from a stranger asking me to speak my son. The stranger told me to pay him US$5,000 in smuggling fees. I said, 'I will look for the money', but unfortunately, my son was shot dead," Mohamed Da'ud, the director of planning in Somaliland's interior ministry, told IRIN.
"My son is among youths who have been killed by smugglers or [who] died in the Sahara after they tried to run away from smugglers."
According to Wafa Alamin, a human rights activist based in Khartoum, Sudan, “Illegal immigrants are treated like animals by the smugglers in the Sahara, between Sudan and Libya.”
Smugglers are also increasingly kidnapping migrant Somaliland youths for ransom.
"The youths are asked about their parents’ properties and jobs. If the smugglers identify that the family of the person can pay a ransom, they take him or her across the border without any payment only to later force the client to call his or her family to demand a ransom,” explained Abdillahi Hassan Digale, the chairman of the Ubah Social Welfare Organization (USWO).
Abdillahi Omar's sons are among the smugglers’ victims.
"If the smugglers identify that the family of the person can pay a ransom, they take him or her across the border without any payment only to later force the client to call his or her family to demand a ransom"
"My two sons graduated from high school in 2011 and had no reason to risk their lives," said Omar. "I sent one of them to university in Ethiopia, but he saved up the money I used to send him to make the risky journey to Libya. On different occasions in Sudan and Libya he was held hostage by smugglers who demanded a ransom, and I spent $14,500 on him. But he is lucky he reached Europe."
Omar's other son, the younger one, is now in Libya. "I don't know what to do. I sold everything I had. My problem is not only being bankrupt but that I don't know how to bring him back," he said.
The government, civil society and international organizations have been engaging in public awareness campaigns to sensitize the Somaliland population on the dangers of irregular migration.
But more needs to be done.
"Even though a lot of campaigns have been done, [especially] in the last several weeks, and youth migrants have decreased from 15 per day to eight per day, we believe that there are local smugglers connected to other smugglers based in Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya, and we don't think it will stop soon," said a Somaliland border immigration official who preferred anonymity.
The high rate of unemployment in Somaliland must be addressed amid an increasing number of university graduates, according to USWO's Digale. "For this reason, there is a need for interventions by both the government and the local business community, as well as international partners working in Somaliland," he said.
A past survey by the Somaliland National Youth Organization found about 75 percent of the youths there to be unemployed.
At present, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is implementing a regional mixed migration programme covering Djibouti, Ethiopia, Puntland, Somaliland and Yemen. In mixed migration, refugees, asylum-seekers, economic migrants and even victims of human trafficking use the same routes, means of transport and smuggling networks to reach shared destinations, but with different claims to protection and humanitarian assistance.
“The overall objective of this programme is to strengthen the protection of - and provide emergency assistance to - irregular migrants in Somaliland, Puntland [and] Djibouti, and potential migrants and returnees in Ethiopia, including the assisted voluntary return of the most vulnerable,” said IOM Somalia. Ethiopia is a leading source country of irregular migrants from the Horn of Africa region heading to the Arabian Peninsula.
IOM Somalia is also urging Somaliland to accede to the Palermo protocol, which aims to prevent the smuggling of migrants, promote cooperation among state parties, protect the rights of smuggled migrants, and prevent the worst forms of exploitation, which often characterizes the smuggling process.
On 17 July, Somaliland officials prosecuted 11 people on human smuggling charges. The Gabiley Regional Court “found the 11 men guilty of smuggling youths from Somaliland to Ethiopia en-route to Libya”, said an official with Somaliland’s immigration department. The arrests and prosecutions are the first of their kind in Somailland.