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Somali Migration and Refugees Dillema

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.


Precious M's picture

Make the world a better place.

Suad's story is heartrending!
I pray the world will be a better place when such violence is put to an end and peace reigns.

My pen speaks

Deqa's picture

Many thanks

Thank you dear for taking the time to read my post and leave a comment. I was having difficulty getting internet access lately that's why i am responding so late.

Precious M's picture

Hope everything is okay now.

Hope everything is okay now.

My pen speaks

Susan Alvey's picture

Appreciate what we have

Suad's circumstances are terrible, and I don't know if I would have made any different decisions if I had been in her place, wanting a better life for my children, but the results are so tragic. Deqa - you have done a wonderful job of describing the misfortunes of so many people. And as you point out, the country needs for people to come together to build a new future. Though that would mean sacrificing individual dreams for collective ones.

Deqa's picture

Many thanks

Thank you my dear Susan for the support throughout the process and for the motivating comment.

pelamutunzi's picture


your story touched the core of my heart for the many times humnity has failed each other and continues to do so. when i was young we lived close to a refuge camp here in harare. there were many somalis there who used to do small businesses to survive. i actually admired them in the camps because i had my sister as playmate but there were so many children there and i wanted to join the fun. but what they had gone through to get there never crossed my mind. and i can only imagine. and one day on my way to south africa i saw five somali men being helped to cross illegally into south africa from zimbabwe. they were sitting in the aisle and this made me very sad seeing them share a loaf of bread and the constant fear on their faces. due to high corruption they made it and people were talking about war in their country and hunger but it seemed so far away until today through your story of suad. thank you deqa for this. zimbabwe is home to many somali refugees and some have managed to make it especiall in south africa where the economy is better and they own shops. to us and me until today i just didnt realise what they go through to come here being uprooted and separated from their loved ones, being abused and killed is torture. my mother once looked after a refugee from cameroon named victor and the family was against it because they didnt know him he could rape us etc but she didnt listen until he found a safe place to go. his sister had fled to america and their parents had been killed. i really pray that you find peace in your country especially so that people can migrate safely.

thanks for the story i feel connected.

we may be powerless to stop an injustice but let there never be a time we fail to protest.

Deqa's picture

Many thanks

My dear your comment gave me goose bumps because it validated my choice of topic. I am glad it resonated with you and I know many African nationals suffer from this terrible illegal migration but Somalis experience the most because the conflict at home.
Thank you for the prayer, and I pray all of us Africans stop risking our lives to illegal migration.
Again thank you my dear for taking the time to read and comment. You have definitely touched my heart and your mom is really an amazing person.

Danica Holley's picture

Open Eyes

Thank you for your beautiful and well-written piece, Deqa. You have done a service to increasing the understanding of the terrible dilemma that migrants face and why they make the choices they do. It is horrifying that the danger, abuse and uncertainty that migrating can hold for them seems better than staying. Truly desperate. I am curious what would be different for Somalia if these brave and resourceful people used their persistence to change their homeland, as you you suggest.

Be well.

Deqa's picture

Many thanks

Thank you my dear for taking the time to read and comment on my post. I am glad many people connected to it and saw the importance of raising this issue. I second your statement, I do wonder too, if these people stayed and focused on finding solutions here, I wonder if we would overcome our problems, and honestly I believe the solution comes from within.
Thank you for the support my dear

Y's picture

No truer words have ever been

No truer words have ever been spoken, " is time for Somalis to come home and build their country for themselves." We have a saying in the U.S. "The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." There are many who create fear in order to profit by the false sense of security that they offer in terms of escape to a better place. This is world-wide, as is greed.

I spent my life running to "better" opportunities only to end up where I started, now empowering others to stand and push back against fear and accompanying oppression.

Blessings to you, Deqa, for a story well-told and on your future efferts.


Deqa's picture

Many thanks

Thank you my dear for taking the time to read my post and leave a kind and encouraging comment. I agree with your sentiment, and I do believe it is better to stand your grown and fight back then to run away from your problems. And you are doing an awesome job teaching resilience and empowering others to push back. I am truly grateful you connected to my piece.

Mukut's picture

Well done Deqa !

"Time for Somalis to come home and build a better place for themselves"- very well said Deqa ! This is applicable to all who flee to other countries, only to end up in worse situations.

Well done on the piece.


Mukut Ray

Deqa's picture

Many thanks

Thank you my dear for reading and commenting on my piece. You are right it sure applies to every situation where running away from difficult situation is involved when the fleeing doesn't yield any progress.
Again thank you for the support.

Maura Bogue's picture

Great piece

This piece is great! The way you use Suad's heartbreaking story as a opener into the bigger issues is efficient, and you manage to look at both the bigger picture and the single human fate at the same time. Next time, try using more direct quotes from your source to make the story more vivid. It could also show the reader your unique experience and authority on the topic by introducing your nephew's story earlier in the piece.

Deqa's picture

Many thanks

Thank you my dear for the encouraging comments and the constructive criticism, I will surely take the hints and incorporate on my next piece. I appreciate your guidance.

Frances Faulkner's picture

Solid and Effective

Deqa --

Thank you for the solid piece you have written! It gives many excellent details and references, and the personal human story of Suad is captivating, allowing the reader to imagine herself in the same situation. What would any of us do? How can people know what to do?

Articles such as yours greatly inform a wide audience, whether it be someone like Suad, looking for information about what she should do, or someone from across the world who knows little or nothing about refugee camps and Somali.
Your undertone of calm and solution-oriented thinking shines through. Thanks-


Deqa's picture

Many thanks

Thank you so much my dear for reading my piece and for the kind and encouraging comments. Your comment validates my choice of topic and gives me confidence boost on the importance of speaking up about this topic. I am glad you connected with my piece and found it informative.

Nakinti's picture

Well written piece!

OMG Deqa,
This story just spoiled my day!
What a risky go through all the hurdles just to make ends meet.
Why on earth must we suffer like that? You are right about the solution -- job creation.
This is what has just happened in Cameroon. The government of Cameroon recruited 25000 youths into the Cameroon Public Service. This has greatly reduced the rate of emigration to other countries.
Wao! Well written piece rock!
Lets fight on!
Lots of love.

Nakinti B. Nofuru
2013 VOF Correspondent
Reporter for Global Press Institute
Bamenda - Cameroon

Deqa's picture

Many thanks

Thank you my dear for reading my piece. You are right, we shouldn't suffer like this just to make ends meet. Its totally heart-breaking. I am impressed with the government of Cameroon and the initiative they took to create jobs and provide alternative solutions for the Cameroonians. It surely is an example to other African countries. I pray my government makes an effort to solve this problem. But in Somalia, the private sector does more in job creation then the government, but there is many progress the government made in the security and safety front, and I hope soon other sectors will be improved as well.
Thanks again for the encouraging comments.

Deqa's picture



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