Abdirashid Ismail, Postdoctoral Researcher, Department of Social Research, University of Helsinki.ismail

The security situation in some parts of the Somali Republic has been slowly improving, particularly in the previously highly volatile southern regions, including the capital, Mogadishu. However, in many ways, it remains questionable that the situation would permit a safe and dignified life for civilians.

As the latest report of the Human Right Watch (HRW) notes, “Somalia’s long-running armed conflict continued to take a heavy toll on civilians in much of south-central Somalia. Warring parties continued to kill, wound, and forcibly displace civilians.” (HRW 2016a). HRW concludes that three years since coming to power, Somalia’s government has not been able to provide basic security for the civilian population in areas under its control. Al-Shabaab still continues its indiscriminate attacks and interference with humanitarian aid. (HRW 2016b).

In any case, security is only one of the many factors that drive people from their localities and home countries. Focusing exclusively on conflict and violence has made public policies blind to other realities on the ground. Post-conflict Somalia, as many countries in the Global South, is still suffering from the severe impact of multiple drivers of migration.

Factors such as deepening socio-economic inequality, material deprivation, soaring unemployment, lack of prospects for career advancement, poor human rights situation and environmental disasters (and their combined effect) continue to force people to flee from their homes, and to push them from the peripheries to the urban centres, from the Global South to the Global North.

The continuing emigration is also connected to a troubled near history. Ruthless geopolitical policies in the 1970s by the Cold War superpowers, and later stringent neoliberal reforms in the 1980s sowed the seeds for a desperate calamity in Somalia, and finally led the country into a complete collapse.

For the moment, Somaliland is probably the least insecure place to live in the Somali Republic, and is a destination for immigrants from southern parts of the country and the neighbouring Ethiopia. However, according to Somaliland’s National Development Programme, a staggering 75 per cent of young people in Somaliland are without jobs (Hamilton and Gebeyehu 2014).

According to the IOM, thousands of young men and women from Somaliland undertake a journey to Europe along the highly dangerous Western route (Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat 2013). During the extremely harsh travel through Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya, the immigrants’ fate is in the hands of the Magafe (literally, a sniper who does not miss a shot), a ruthless extensive regional network of smugglers with agents all over Somalia and parts of Europe (Hamilton and Gebeyehu 2014).

Immigrants have to pay large sums of money, on average around 5,000 USD, to the Magafe agents (Integrated Regional Information Networks 2012). Frequently, the travellers are captured and physically and mentally tortured, sexually abused, taken as hostages for ransom. Others perish in the Sahara desert or drown in the Mediterranean Sea. Those lucky enough to reach Europe may have spent years in getting there.

A recent study found that a striking 46 per cent of 296 surveyed students in schools in Hargeisa know a family member who died or disappeared after leaving Somaliland (Hamilton and Gebeyehu 2014).

Why do students put their lives in such danger? And why, if they reach Europe, do they claim asylum?

Let us take a hypothetical person, “Idil”, an 18-year-old female, who is soon completing her high school in Hargeisa, Somaliland. After the graduation, like peers everywhere, she has to decide the next stage of her career development. One option for her is to apply to study for a university education in a private institution for four years.

However, after four years, she faces two difficult choices. One is to seek employment in Hargeisa, where her chances of being employed are below 25 per cent. The other is to migrate somewhere else. But the question is how: Somali or Somaliland passport holders are able to travel only to a very limited number of countries.

Idil’s mobility rights are therefore almost zero. In particular, travelling legally to Europe and other Western countries is virtually impossible. Furthermore, it is unlikely that institutions or employers in the Global North would accept her educational credentials from Hargeisa, even if she miraculously ended up in Europe. Therefore, one of the only options for immigrants from Somalia in Europe is to become an asylum-seeker or a refugee.

In case Idil decides to migrate, in order to improve prospects for her future career, most probably the only choice she has is to submit her fate into the hands of the Magafe, and to travel via the Sahara desert and the Mediterranean Sea, with a very slim chance of arriving to Europe.

Furthermore, if she is convinced that she will migrate in any case, why would she go to college in the first place, since any educational credentials she gains from Somalia will be worthless in her destination country?

According to the locals, the young high school female graduates are the most vulnerable group to end up in the hands of the Magafe (Hamilton and Gebeyehu 2014). Probably this is not because of their numbers, but due to the hardships they encounter during the migration process.

If, after all these hardships, Idil manages to arrive to Europe, is tightening the immigration rules and deportation the only option we have?

I think we can and should give Idil and her likes better chances, both within Somalia and outside it. Rather than further reducing the wellbeing of victimized immigrants, we should put our focus more on the root causes that force people to migrate. Alexander Rondos, the European Union’s Special Representative for the Horn of Africa has thus urged external engagements  by the members of the international community to be more “honest and creative”. Engagements that comprehend that the costly and wasteful transaction costs of ad hoc intervention are to be transformed into a wider and more responsible strategies would help the Horn of Africa region to grow in peace and to protect itself from the depredations of competing and corrupting foreign interests (Rondos 2016).

Since the lack of recognized travel documents push young people on dangerous and illegal migratory roots, much could be achieved if our governments, both at the national and the EU level, would work with the state institutions in Somalia to create opportunities, programmes and mechanisms for Somali students and graduates to travel legally to Europe, in order to improve skills and participate in the EU labour market.

In addition, dealing with migration industry that commercializes the international mobility, and particularly uprooting the lethal Magafe networks, would improve the situation of many migrants. For as British labour politician Pat McFadden has argued,”we really have a choice: you can feed on people’s grievances or you can give people a chance. And I think our policies should be around giving people a chance, not a grievance.”

 

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[E1]What international polices? More specific