From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Mon Mar 30 2009 - 11:40:18 EST
SOMALIA: Somaliland youth risk death in search of better life
HARGEISA, 30 March 2009 (IRIN) - Harir Omar Yusuf, about to finish high
school, should be choosing a degree course and deciding on a career
direction; instead, he spends most of his time planning a perilous escape
from his hometown of Hargeisa, capital of the self-declared republic of
Somaliland in the northwest of Somalia, to Europe.
"As soon as I finish high school I will go there, because I have nothing to
stay for in Somaliland," he told IRIN, adding that his parents could not
afford university fees and he was not assured of a place even if they could.
Yusuf has many friends who have made the journey - first through Ethiopia,
then Sudan and Libya and finally to Italy via the Mediterranean Sea - and
are now living as illegal immigrants in Italy and other European nations. He
also has many friends languishing in Sudanese or Libyan jails, arrested for
entering the country illegally, and knows of many who died making the trip,
but he remains determined.
Tens of thousands of Somalis also try to cross the Gulf of Aden into Yemen
every year aboard small vessels run by people-traffickers operating from
Somali ports; according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), one out of every
20 people attempting the journey in 2007 died.
Yusuf says he would rather risk death than live a life of certain poverty in
"The issue of young people running away is very problematic in Somaliland,"
said Omer Ali Abdi, the director of the youth department in the Ministry of
Youth and Sports. "Year after year, graduates from secondary schools are
increasing and our universities just don't have the capacity to take in all
of them - and even when they graduate from university, there is no guarantee
they will get a job."
According to Ahmed Hashi Abdi, vice-minister in the Ministry of Planning and
Coordination, only 10-20 percent of people under 35 are employed.
"Because it is unrecognised internationally, Somaliland has no access to
bi-lateral funding, which has caused our economy to suffer, especially after
the livestock ban of 1999, which destroyed the main source of income of most
of our people," Abdi said. "For the same reason, international scholarships
and higher education exchange programmes are not open to our students."
An outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in Saudi Arabia in 1999 resulted in a
regional ban on imported livestock from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan,
Kenya, and Djibouti; the ban on Somalia remains in place and now includes
several other Middle Eastern nations.
After the ban, remittances became the main foreign exchange earner;
thousands fled the country during an outbreak of war in 1988, and regularly
send money to their families. The Ministry of Planning estimates remittances
account for US$500 million - or about 80 percent of Somaliland's economy.
"When people leave the country legally, we are happy that they are able to
send back money, but as much as possible we try to discourage young people
from leaving illegally - then it becomes a matter of life and death and we
cannot encourage that," Abdi said.
Despite the risks, many families scrimp and save to send their children on
these journeys. Over the past year, Amina Rooble (not her real name) has
spent more than $6,500 on transport, communication, paying traffickers and
bribing prison officers, all in an effort to get her son Hashim to Italy.
Although his boat sank, Hashim survived and is now seeking asylum in Italy.
"Even though my son was rescued, two other members of my family died on that
boat," Rooble said.
Incentive to stay
The government and local NGOs have run campaigns to discourage young people
from leaving, but according to Yahye Mohamoud Ahmed, head of the Somaliland
National Youth Organisation NGO, unless the government can provide some
motivation, young people will continue to escape in droves.
"They have no incentive to stay - no jobs and no businesses, so it is fairly
futile to tell them to stay," he said. "They need to be given the capacity
to feed themselves here."
Ahmed added that many young men were now taking swimming lessons and using
hi-tech communication equipment - such as satellite telephones to make SOS
calls - to make their trips safer.
"When they hear about their friends and relatives in London or Italy, they
get encouraged to go; even when their relatives have no jobs there, they
still think they have a better life than here," he added.
According to Ahmed Abdi, the national development plan includes the creation
of two vocational training institutes in every region of Somaliland to boost
the number of tertiary institutions and the variety of courses available.
"We also intend to set up micro-finance schemes to enable them to be
self-supporting," he added.
He noted that despite the continued livestock ban, a few countries in the
Arab world were starting to buy Somaliland's meat, and the government hoped
the Saudi ban would be lifted, restoring the industry.
The Ministry of Youth and Sports, in partnership with the UN Children's Fund
(UNICEF), is drafting a national youth policy - due to be passed by
parliament in 2011 - that hopes to address issues of youth emigration,
unemployment, education and political participation.
"What we need more than anything is resources from our international
partners focused on development rather than strictly emergencies - resources
focusing on education and building the economy would encourage young people
to stay and build their own nation," the Ministry of Youth's Abdi said.
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