Many Somalis choose to flee the war, the poverty, and the dire situation within the country. They dream of being granted citizenship. Contrary to the popular belief, migrating doesn’t always yield being granted citizenship but it usually results in ending up in a refugee camp for decades, or even worse, being killed during the trip before reaching the destination. The migration route depends on the financial situation of the immigrant and it is easier if the immigrants have relations outside the country who are able to finance the trip.
Suad, 27, is a widow with 3 children, she had no dime to her name, her husband was killed in a raid by Al-shabab in Mogadishu. And she was forced to raise and provide for 3 kids without an employment and in a conflict situation. She decided to flee the complex political situation in the south, especially in Mogadishu, the famine that struck the region and destroyed lives, the alshabab honor killings and the general poverty situation, and in hopes of finding better circumstances she migrated to follow the path that has claimed many lives. Her destination was Italy, but the route was to start from Somalia, to Sudan, to Libya, and all the way to crossing the Mediterranean and reaching towards the foothills of Europe, Italy. She knew the risks but the war in Mogadishu did not give her many choices and she believed that it was more fitting to die trying to find a solution then to die in result of cross fire. This seems to be the general belief of immigrants, and whenever they are asked the reasons why they risked their life in such a manner they respond by saying “If we are going to die then at least it is better to die looking for a solution then to just wait for Alshabab bullet”. Suad says that she wanted to take control of her life and for once call the shots of what’s happening to her and her children. Although the risks were apparent as she heard from the TVs and local radios broadcasting messages to discourage people from risking their life in migration, but she believed she has seen the worst and the war was risky enough and she lived through the conflict. She dismissed the radio messages thinking they were intimidating her from following her dream.
She also heard many stories of people who succeeded in crossing the Mediterranean and reaching Europe unharmed and living a fancy life. She fantasized of the money she was going to send home to help her parents and the ability to give her children a better life and education.
Suad decided to sell the only property they had to their name, her and her children, which is the house they were residing in order to migrate along with her children. "My husband was murdered by Alshabab because they considered him as an infidel who was aiding the enemy just because he was a government policeman. I did not feel safe in Mogadishu any more and I knew I would be a target if I remained there." Says Suad.
She cashed in the money to start the journey towards Sudan and with little trouble she managed to reach all the way to Libya, but that’s where the horror started for her. She was captured by the Libyan authorities along with several travelers and they were detained in a prison in Libya. They constantly got beaten and the men got the better share of the physical violence and beating, but the women had to deal with more traumatizing weapon used against them, which was continuous rape. She was raped on a daily basis by many men in the prison. She never imagined the horrific and unimaginable situation that she was experiencing, because she was so focused on seeing the good that can come from this trip that she never really pondered on the possibility of this happening to her.
“I chose the path I took and I brought calamity on to my family” she says, staring into deep space. Her face shows a reflection of horrifying memories coming back and she tries unsuccessfully to withhold tears that are too persistent. “I heard about the messages on the radios but I dismissed them because I thought the people who were warning against the migration were unsuccessful immigrants who were returned before they succeeded to reach their destination and I considered them as people who are now being paid by the some humanitarian organizations to say those things but I never gave it a chance to actually listen and consider the risks” she says.
Suad lives in Internally Displaced Persons camp in Bossaso, and she has not given up her pursuit to migrate elsewhere. “I have been returned to my country and I love my country, but I must go elsewhere to provide better opportunities for my children. This time I will try my luck with the neighboring Arab countries, and I will go to Yemen to register in a refugee camp because there are chances of being relocated to Europe or North America by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR” she says.
Suad is fixating on migration because she gave up hope on building life in Somalia and finding employment within the country. She believes that the chance of getting an employment that allows her to support her children and her close relations is close to none. From my conversation with her, I realized that she is not ready to change her mind about traveling and despite the risks that she will face; she is still determined to find refuge elsewhere.
Somalia is on top of the refugee crisis list in the world, and according to Refugees International, in the year 2011 roughly there were more than one million Somali refugees residing in camps in neighboring countries, while more than 1.3 million others were displaced internally due to conflicts in the southern regions of Somalia.
Thousands of Somalis migrate from their homeland to neighboring countries, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Djibouti every year to join the refugee camps that are already flooded with million other Somalis in the hopes of them finding a chance to get relocated to a western country by UNHCR. Hundreds of Somalis take the long journey migrating illegally towards Italy as an entry point in Europe following a dangerous path that could end their lives.
According to reports by Mixed Migration Task Force, which was established in 2007, co-chaired by UNHCR and IOM, another route for illegal migrants who are escaping Somalia is the red sea; by taking a hazardous and dangerous journey through the northern parts of Somalia, Puntland, Djibouti and onwards to make their way towards the Gulf States in search of better livelihoods. The mixed Migration Task was organized in order to tackle the migration issues and provide assistance to the illegal migrants and give them options to avoid taking the high risk of crossing the red sea. The journey from Somalia to the European continent through Libya and crossing the Mediterranean Sea towards Italy is said to cost approximately 5000 to 8000 US dollars charged by smugglers. A smuggler, who requested to remain anonymous, told me that the money is charged upfront before assisting the immigrant to cross borders to avoid being caught. A ring of smugglers from different nationalities work together to smuggle the immigrants from a country to another without a valid visa; this type of illegal migration is usually the choice of Puntlanders and Somalilanders which are the two most peaceful and politically stable areas in Somalia. The individuals who choose this type of immigration are usually youth, from as young as teenagers to as old as 30 year old of both genders.
There are many factors that contribute to the illegal migration of Somalis whether it is to the refugee camps of neighboring countries or to the extreme level of heading towards Europe through the Mediterranean Sea. The African News Agency, Irin, reports that even the more politically stable parts of Somalia are experiencing illegal migration, and in the last 3 months of 2012, the number of illegal migrants estimated by the department of youth and sports are said to be between 300 to 350 persons, and that is the number of cases that are reported, but definitely there are a lot of cases that are not reported to the officials because in Somalia people case reporting is not very common.
Tens of thousands of Somalis, Ethiopians, and Eritreans take this route on a daily basis and risk their lives in the hopes of a better future across the sea in the wealth Gulf countries, but the success stories of people who actually manage to succeed to reach their preferred destination and achieve financial success by getting employment is very low since most of the immigrants are returned to Somalia when they are captured by the authorities of these countries and their illegal status is confirmed, but that doesn’t stop from thousands of migrants to pursue this unreachable dream of building life in the Gulf States, such as Saudi Arabia, Emirates, etc.
Despite the thousands of people who are killed in the sea, according to reported cases of people being thrown off the boat by smugglers during the journey and never reach their destination, and the tens of thousands who are subjected to abuse at the hands of smugglers and eventually end up in a detention center in Yemen with the most severe living conditions, immigrants choose to risk their lives nevertheless.
A long-lasting solution to overcome the illegal migration issue is yet to be discovered because the root causes must be eliminated in order to provide a durable solution. The reasons why illegal migration is preferred despite the high risk of mortality are diverse, for some it’s the on-going conflict and in some cases its flight from persecution and human rights violations, whereas for others it’s an effort to escape food insecurity and desire for better economic opportunities, but for youth its mainly to search for employment opportunities elsewhere and they see it as a ticket towards achieving economic independence.
Many families lost loved ones to migration, and I experienced the agony and fear that is associated with migration when my own nephew decided to head towards Italy through the Mediterranean. He was sent to Uganda to pursue his undergraduate studies, and few months later we received the news that he had left the university and spent the tuition fees on hiring migration agents to help him reach Libya. He was captured in Libya and he requested for 1200 bail money to be delivered to the Libyan authorities to process for his release. Shocked and devastated by this horrifying news, his mother contacted the whole family to help pay the amount and the donations started pouring, the money was sent to him and he was released, another amount was sent to him to make his way back but he set his mind into continuing his journey. He was captured twice by the Libyan authorities and every time a bail had to be paid before he managed to cross the Mediterranean Sea to reach Malta. The amount of money spent on his journey was enough to earn him a bachelor’s degree, unfortunately it seems as though he did not appreciate receiving education and he did not consider it of importance to allow him to get ahead in his career aspirations.
The solution to end illegal migration is job creation and providing employment opportunities for Somalis in their homeland. For the people of Puntland and Somaliland, the political situation is calm and there is no risk of prosecution which means the driving force of the illegal migration is unemployment and escaping poverty. Even the southern regions are stable in general apart from some Alshabab threats. It is time to return to Somalia not to migrate elsewhere, it is time for Somalis to come home and build their country for themselves.
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous digital media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.Voices of Our Future 2013 Assignments: Frontline Journals