Officials in Somalia’s self-declared independent state of Somaliland are concerned over a rise in human trafficking in the region. Children are mainly trafficked from south-central Somalia, because of the lack of government there, says a senior government official.
“Human trafficking is increasing in Somaliland. Before, no one believed that human/child trafficking existed in Somaliland but such kinds of crimes occur here…” Fadumo Sudi, the Minister for Family and Social Affairs, said during a recent ceremony to reunite a girl with her family. She had been trafficked to Hargeisa in February from Qardho, in the autonomous northeast region of Puntland.
“One day, my sister went to school as usual, but she disappeared. We searched for her everywhere but we didn’t find her. Finally, we heard from the media that she had been trafficked to Somaliland and by Allah’s mercy she was saved. We are happy to have her back,” Najib Jama Abdi, the girl’s brother, said.
In January, the Somaliland immigration office in the area of Loyada, along the border with Djibouti, sent home more than 60 minors in the company of about 200 illegal immigrants who were hoping to proceed on to Europe via Eritrea, Sudan and Libya.
Ethiopian Oromian children also travel to Somaliland without their parents in search of work; most end up in petty trade or as street children. Older people, claiming to be the children’s parents, use them to beg.
“The children are used in different ways and are exploited for child labour in Somaliland,” Lul Hassan Matan, the director of child protection in Somaliland’s National Human Rights Commission, told IRIN. “Whenever you see a child in the street crying and ask him or her why, they respond they are not with their parents, but have been brought in to work.” (Since speaking to IRIN, Matan has left this position).
According to Khadar Qorane Yusuf, the victim referral mechanism lead person in the Ministry of Family and Social Affairs, the children are initially enticed with false promises and told not to share the information with anyone, only to be later violated.
“With the collaboration of the International Office for Migration (IOM), we are raising awareness by holding forums to discuss the issue of trafficking, as well as debates and seminars,” added Qorane. Information posters have been strategically placed along the borders and airports.
IOM defines trafficking in persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.
Exploitation includes the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
Forced into sex work
According to Mayumi Ueno, the counter-trafficking project manager at IOM’s Somalia Support Office, the scale of human trafficking in Somalia is not known. “But [a] rapid assessment conducted by IOM indicated [the] existence of international trafficking of Somali women to Djibouti, Kenya, and the Gulf States, mainly the United Arab Emirates, for sexual and labour exploitation. Moreover, further investigations confirmed the widespread practice of domestic human trafficking of Somali women and children [who are] lured into forced prostitution in some areas of Somalia [Somaliland and Puntland],” Ueno told IRIN.
In 2009, IOM launched a Counter Trafficking Project for Somalia, in Somaliland and Puntland, whose activities include awareness-raising campaigns targeting the local population to inform them of the dangers and risks of being trafficked. It has also supported Somaliland and Puntland in setting up National Counter Trafficking Taskforces.
Challenges remain, however, with the public and authorities not familiar with the concept of human trafficking and the best ways to respond, Mayumi said.
“Furthermore, the general lack of social services and issues of culture and social stigma make victims’ reintegration extremely difficult.”