Authorities in Somalia's self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland have given a month's notice to an estimated 80,000 illegal immigrants - mostly Ethiopian - to leave the region.
"After evaluating the status of the illegal immigrants, we realized that these people have no benefits for the country; on the contrary, they are a problem in terms of security," said Osman Garad Sofe, Somaliland's Deputy Interior Minister. "For this reason, the government of Somaliland has given a month's notice to all illegal immigrants to leave the country. Those who do not leave will face legal charges and be deported."
Sofe told a news conference in Hargeisa, the Somaliland capital, that those targeted did not include registered refugees or Somalis displaced from the larger Somalia.
Ahmed Elmi Barre, the director-general in the ministry, said: "We recognize only 1,772 Ethiopian refugees out of 80,000 to 90,000 illegal immigrants in Somaliland. And the decision will affect those of every nationality living in Somaliland illegally."
Ibrahim Bulshaale, chairman of the Organization of Ethiopian Refugees in Somaliland, told IRIN: "Fewer than 2,000 Ethiopians are recognized by Somaliland; most of these arrived in 1991 while others came in the 2000s. In 2006, Somaliland informed UNHCR [UN Refugee Agency] that it did not have the capacity to host any more refugees; for this reason, no asylum seekers are accepted any more in Somaliland. The process of seeking asylum started at the Ministry of Interior and the ministry has already closed its doors to any more refugees. Those who are recognized as refugees have legal cards identifying them as members of our organization."
An Ethiopian immigrant, Mohamed Ali, 20, who works as a car-washer in Hargeisa, said many Ethiopians in the region were from Oromia, which is badly affected by an ongoing drought that has undermined livelihoods.
"Because of the drought, many of us had nothing to eat and nothing to do; when we came to Somaliland, we found that life is better, we can survive," Ali said. "Now the Somaliland government says it does not want us, what can I do? I will simply obey and leave."
Photo: OCHA VMU
|Map of Somaliland|
Farah Abdi, a mother of three, who survives by begging in Hargeisa, said: "We are now begging for bus fare so we can return to Ethiopia; the government here will not allow us to continue begging."
An official from Somaliland's migration office, who declined to be named, told IRIN the office was working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to repatriate some 570 Ethiopians.
"Two Ethiopian officials are already here to screen these people to determine whether or not they are Ethiopian," the official said.
Andy Needham, a public information officer for UNHCR Somalia, told IRIN the agency had held initial talks with Somaliland authorities to chart a way forward for those targeted by the government's notice. He said the agency expected that any measure authorities took would be in accordance with international humanitarian law as well as national laws.
Puntland ID cards
At the same time, authorities in the semi-autonomous region of Puntland have initiated a scheme to issue ID cards to internally displaced persons (IDPs) from southern Somalia who have sought refuge in the region. The move, officials said, would weed out militias and other criminal elements from genuine IDPs.
"The ID cards will be given to all IDPs in Puntland; these people will, in particular, get food distribution cards, those for registration, ID cards to enable WFP [World Food Programme] or other aid organizations to count them," said Abdullahi Ahmed Jama, Puntland's Minister for Home Affairs. "These IDs will also be issued for security matters [because] we want to encourage the IDPs to police themselves... build police stations and recruit some of them to handle their own security."
Jama dismissed claims that Puntland had thrown out IDPs from southern Somalia, saying: "This is totally untrue, people [from southern Somalia] are not discriminated against here. For example, in the recent past, we have had drought-displaced people who have been left with nothing, some live with their relatives but we have taken the responsibility to help these people as most are IDPs from the south."
UNHCR's Needham said at least 290 people from southern Somalia were in Garowe, the capital of Puntland. He said initial talks had been held between Puntland authorities, UNHCR and other agencies regarding the issue.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions