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Unemployment fuels youth exodus from Somaliland

Rampant unemployment in Somaliland has prompted thousands of young people to leave the territory every month
(Mohamed Amin Jibril/IRIN)

A high unemployment rate in the self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland, especially among school-leavers and university graduates, has fuelled an increase in migration, with hundreds of young people embarking every month on a perilous journey to Europe through the Sahara Desert, officials said.

"In the months of August, September and October, about 3,500 young men and women from Somaliland went through Ethiopia, to Sudan, then to Libya and on to cross the Mediterranean Sea on their way to western Europe,” Abdillahi Hassan Digale, chairman of the Ubah Social Welfare Organization, who works for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), told IRIN.

According to Somaliland's National Development programme - which was launched in October - total employment (comprising self-employment and paid employment) among the economically active population is estimated at 38.5 percent for urban areas and 59.3 percent for rural and nomadic areas. The weighted average national employment rate is estimated at 52.6 percent.

Unemployment among the youth, which stands at 75 percent, is much higher than the average. Unofficial estimates show that at least 65-70 percent of Somaliland's 3.5 million people are younger than 30.

A study carried out in December 2010 by the Somaliland National Youth Organization (SONYO), with Oxfam-Novib, indicated that out of 800 people interviewed, only 25 percent were employed.

"On the issue of employment, participants were asked if they had any type of employment, paid or unpaid; 75 percent indicated that they had none," according to the study.

"This was, in a way, to be expected because youth between the ages of 15-22 could still be in school or university... Only 25 percent of the youth stated that they had some employment. Some 43.1 percent of the employed group were engaged in business, 40.6 percent were employed in the private sector, whereas 14.4 percent were employed in the public sector. Of those employed, 77 percent were confident that they had job security."

The study identified the business sector as the biggest employer of the youth, noting, however, that the sector was not well formalized or regulated.

''Each year, hundreds decide to try their luck against all odds, by getting to the shores of Europe, crossing continents, deserts and dangerous seas''

"The youth who worked for this sector were mostly unsatisfied with the remunerations they received for the work they did; 69.1 percent of the unemployed youth had been unemployed for more than three years despite the fact that 53.2 percent of them had skills for different trades," the study indicated. "Lack of employment opportunities prevents them from putting their energies and creativity to good use and thereby fulfilling their ambitions. This leaves them with a sense of frustration and hopelessness that drives some of them to take desperate measures.

"Each year, hundreds decide to try their luck against all odds, by getting to the shores of Europe, crossing continents, deserts and dangerous seas. Most of them do not make it and many perish on the way.”


According to the study, lack of sports and recreational facilities, venues for cultural activities as well as opportunities for internships and doing voluntary work increase the youth's desperation and feeling of alienation.

During election campaigns in 2010, many young people supported the now ruling party KULMIYE (Solidarity), because one of its campaign platforms was job creation for the youth and free primary education.

In his acceptance speech after the 20 June 2010 elections, President Ahmed Mohamed Mohamoud Silanyo said: “The winners are our young generation who will never undertake illegal immigration and will never die in the Mediterranean Sea in search of a better life and employment."

In a statement on 25 October, Labour and Social Affairs Minister Ilhan Mohamed Jama said the government had taken certain measures to ensure the youth had better access to work, in particular, issuing a directive to employers to give priority to citizens. He said there were many foreigners working in Somaliland yet they did not have work permits.

The ministry has since set up a team to monitor illegal workers in Somaliland.

“We have now nominated a monitoring team to register the foreign workers in Somaliland and to assess their status, because our mandate is to give job opportunities to our citizens," said Abdil-Kadir Da'ud, director of the ministry's Labour Department. “Only 40 foreign workers are registered with our ministry but the exact number will be known upon completion of our monitoring.

"We have also urged international aid agencies to advertise job vacancies in Somaliland locally and we have notified them that we will not accept [the] hiring of foreign workers for vacancies that Somalilanders can do."

Locals ignored

Zainab Ali Mohamed, chair of Marwo Youth Organization, said: "About 104 international NGOs and UN agencies are now working on different projects in Somaliland; but instead of seeking locals to help in implementing the programmes for which they source funds from donors, about 60 percent of their staff are foreigners. This has had a negative impact on Somaliland youth, many of whom are left with no choice but to leave the country in search of a better life."

However, some local NGOs say illegal migration by Somaliland youth decreased in October, compared with August and September 2011.

Ubah’s Hassan said youth migration decreased in October due to increased awareness-raising campaigns by IOM and its Mixed Migration Program partners.


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:

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