Why Somalian Youths are Dying to Venture Overseas as Refugees
Today, youth in Somalia are alienated, demoralized and deprived the hope of a normal social life in their home country. They have suffered the violence of civil unrest, lost family members, been personally involved in the conflict, and have been left with no education and very few economic resources. Unstable childhood can be a driving factor in the youth’s perpetuating unstable conditions, leading them to want to leave Somalia and seek refugee status elsewhere where they can find opportunities for education and a normal life.
Recent history sets the scene for today’s troubles..
During colonialism and the independence period (1960-1969), youth were the backbone of the Somali society. In the mid 1940s, the youth began to organize themselves to fight for independence and freedom from oppression. The Somali Youth League (S.Y.L.), a party of 13 youngsters, was the first youth association that mobilized people to fight against colonialism. Through the invaluable efforts of the youth in the struggle for the freedom of their country, on July 1st 1960, Somalia declared independence and the Somali Republic was born.
Youth died at the Redsea
After independence, the youth movement split. Once the uniting motivation of fighting against a common enemy was lost, the youth spread and joined the numerous, existing clan-based parties (in 1968 election, there were more than eighty political parties): the dreams of Solidarity and National development were quickly forgotten. Among the reasons for this change in the youth attitude was the lack of an adequate system of formal public education has to be mentioned. In the time between the independence declaration and the military coup, schools were very limited in number, and concentrated in the big urban areas.
A mass educational campaign was launched during the military regime (1969-1990). The written form of Somali language, traditionally oral, was introduced in 1972. Inspired by the principles adopted by the regime, the education system disseminated a Socialist-oriented curriculum, reaching all towns and villages first and then rural areas through the “rural development campaign” in 1974, where youth played a significant role.
On January 26th 1991, Siyad Barre’s military regime was overthrown. The president left the capital, which was devastated by incessant clashes between the rebels and the governmental forces first, and among different rebel factions later. The civil war quickly spread to the rest of the country. Living conditions were particularly severe during 1991-92, when war and massive population upheavals lead to famine, leaving 2 million Somalis internally displaced and 800,000 refugees outside the country. Again, the youth were heavily affected by the situation, becoming the militia forces fighting for one clan faction or the other.
Young man died crossing the Redsea
During over a decade of turmoil, many young Somalis died in internal clashes, while others tried to reach safety and a new life in foreign countries, sometimes by crossing the Mediterranean or the Red Sea. The ones who survived the turmoil and still live in Somalia are mostly jobless and waiting for any kind of help or support from the international and local agencies operating in the country, as well as from the long awaited Transitional Federal Government of the Republic of Somalia, TFG.
Part of these groups are obsessed to venture overseas as refugees, by any means. This obsession is locally dubbed “buufis”. Most of these have relatives abroad, and they will try to realize their goal at any cost.
Many young people have been forced to migrate because of the war. The complex nature of Somalia’s conflict produced two different phenomena among the youth: urbanization and emigration. While most of the urban youth were packing to flee the country, many others were moving to the main cities from rural areas, leaving behind the harsh nomadic life for urban opportunities. Today, youngsters who live in the main cities are displaced from rural areas and suffer dramatic changes in environment and social behaviors. Many of them, especially during the fiercest years of conflict between 1991 and 1995, fell prey to the different warring factions, given the fact that most of the rebels and faction leaders drew their fighting army from the pastoralist and rural context. This brings up the issue of child soldiers in rebel armies.
Those who remain
Among the working youth, we can distinguish between the employees and the self-employed. No more than ten percent of youth is employed. The employed are luckier but still are paid below the cost of living. The self-employed either try to make a living off selling tea, khat (a drug), or learn a quick trade such as shoe repairing.
Many youth, including girls, are involved in hostilities. These may include working as a free lance militia man, driver, or security man for businesses regardless of clan association, as many businesses like to have security of varied clan memberships. Relatively speaking, there is a minor security risk for hired youth. Freelance militia men travel to wherever they can use violence to find quick income, by robbery or other means. In areas with stable governments this is uncommon.
Some of the fishermen turn into sea pirates because they are frustrated that other countries are using their waters for fishing or dumping nuclear waste. This ruins their fishing business and now they make money by demanding ransom for kidnapped ships. There are an increasing number of freelance militia men who used to work for war lords and who are now turning to piracy.
Approximately 1,000,000 displaced persons lived in some 200 camps and squatter settlements in or around Mogadishu area. IDP (Internally Displaced People) youngsters are often the innocent victims of power struggles between TFG, Ethiopian troops, Islamists, and Opposition. While all young people are affected by the widespread breakdown of social services, political institutions, law and order, IDPs are one of the most vulnerable groups, as they had to flee their homes and find new places in new communities. Most of them take refuge in government buildings, schools, and other public places destroyed by the war, while others seek shelter under the trees between Afgoie and Mogadishu.
Most of the IDP families are composed of mothers and children. Fathers may have died during the civil war. Mainly, displaced girls are domestic workers for the people living in the cities and towns, earning very low wages, such as 50,000-150,000 Sh.So. per month (3 to 10 USD). Their rights are abused, with no holidays and exhausting working hours. The other members of the family, including youngsters and children over ten years old, go to work in market places. They are often involved in khat dealing, or carry out the most humble and exploitative works, such as porters, digging, etc.
Also, there are many disabled youth who have lost limbs or have been injured by land mines or war. The lack of medial facilities compounds this issue. There are almost no educational or work options that can accommodate a disabled (blind or hearing impaired) person. We have a problem with mentally handicapped youth since they also do not have access to mental care programs.
What’s needed to build for the future
Today, youth in Somalia are alienated, demoralized and deprived the hope of a normal social life in their home country. They have suffered the violence of civil unrest, lost family members, been personally involved in the conflict, and have been left with no education and very few economic resources. Many of them have been forced to migrate, within or outside their country, by the war. Psychosocial rehabilitation is of utter importance for all of them, with a particular stress on those who have been directly involved in hostilities. Different stakeholders feel that unemployment, lack of formal education and of any technical skills, insecurity, poverty and use of drugs are the main problems that youth in Somalia face nowadays.
The creation of income-generating activities, education, skill training, demobilization and provision of health services has been identified as the most urgent interventions to improve the youth’s situation. The restoration of a Somali government is felt by many stakeholders as a “global” solution to all the youth’s problems. Poverty, use of drugs and unemployment are said to be the major causes of divorce, which is becoming more and more common among the youth: social institutions seem to be easily corroded by the overwhelming problems they face. Unstable childhood can be a driving factor in the youth’s perpetuating unstable conditions, leading them to want to leave Somalia and seek refugee status elsewhere where they can find opportunities for education and a normal life.
Ahmed Abdurahman Omar (Dharbaxo)
Asylum and the law
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