Thousands flee south every year from Somalia, Ethiopia – By Frank Nyakairu (Reuters)
At least 17,000 illegal migrants from the Horn of Africa leave their countries for South Africa annually, most of them transiting through Kenya, a top U.N. official said on Monday.
Tal Raviv, a regional programme officer at the U.N.’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told Reuters that conflict and poverty were forcing Ethiopians and Somalis to undertake risky trips to better places.
“We estimate the number of people, specifically Somalis and Ethiopians, going from south central Somalia and southern Ethiopia towards South Africa is between 17,000 and 20,000 men every year,” Raviv told Reuters in an interview.
Violence in Somalia has killed some 21,000 civilians since the start of 2007 and uprooted a further 1.5 million people.
Southern Ethiopia is also mired in a long-running insurgency against the Ethiopian government, for more autonomy for the underdeveloped ethnic Somali Ogaden region.
“The journey is made possible because of limited border controls all the way to South Africa, but also the fact that you can easily get false documents and pay bribes to move from one place to another,” she said.
IOM’s 2009 report estimates that sneaking Ethiopians and Somalis into South Africa was a $40 million business.
Police in Kenya’s north eastern region said they have stepped up measures to curb human smuggling.
“We have also sacked some of the corrupt officials who have been taking money from illegal migrants,” said James Ole Seriani, north eastern province commissioner, in a telephone interview from the eastern town of Garissa.
Kenya officially closed its 680 km (420 mile) border with Somalia in 2007 fearing the threat from heavily armed militias.
But it has allowed thousands of refugees from Somalia to enter and live in sprawling refugee camps near the border.
IOM’s 2009 report said organised criminal groups of human smugglers located in eight African countries facilitate the illegal movement.
A 17-year-old Somali boy who travelled from the southern Somalia town of Kismayu to South Africa’s Cape Town last year described the journey as risky.
Fearing forceful recruitment by al Shabaab hardline insurgents, the teenager, who asked not to be named, said he travelled in a group of 75 Somalis including a 60-year-old woman and a toddler on the back of an old truck.
“When we entered Zambia, the security forces arrested us and sent us to a prison near the border, where we tilled land on government farms every day for six months,” he said.
After half a year in jail, the teenager was released.
He arrived in Cape Town, via Mozambique, 10 months after leaving his hometown of Kismayu.
“South Africa is not my destination. I am now planning to continue to Minnesota, USA,” he said.