Key mixed migration characteristics

Puntland is situated on the eastern side of Somaliland and north of South Somalia. It is an origin, destination and transit country for mixed migrants in the Horn of Africa. Puntland is a transit zone for mixed migrants mostly from Ethiopia and South Somalia who seek to cross the Gulf of Aden from the port of Bossaso into Yemen.

Despite the immense poverty, few migrants documented and encountered in Yemen originate from Puntland. UNHCR figures from Yemen indicate that majority of Somali migrants arriving from the Port of Bossaso in Puntland are from South Central Somalia.

According to the Trafficking in Persons report 2012,  government officials may be involved in human trafficking; business people involved in smuggling of persons in Puntland, for instance, purportedly enjoy protection and work with the knowledge of influential officials within the administration.

Most recent statistics

The town of Bossaso in Puntland is the converging point for migrants being smuggled from Ethiopia (mostly Ogaden region) and South Central Somalia. It is also the point of arrival for relatively limited group of returnees from Yemen. RMMS analysis show that the trends in 2012 decreased partly due to the relative peace in Somalia that continues to attract quite a number of returnees.

Over the course of the year 2012, a total of 107,532 persons mostly (Somalis and non-Somalis) arrived on the shores of Yemen. A total of 27,067 crossed the Arabian Sea via the coastal ports of Puntland (mostly Bossaso) and into Yemen.

Refugees and Asylum-seekers in Puntland

According to the UNHCR Somalia Operation Fact Sheet July 2013, there are 129,000 IDPs, 3,782 asylum seekers and 392 refugees cumulating to a total of 143,173 population of concern. An average of 2,250 people per month departed with smugglers from Bossaso (and its environs) to cross the Gulf of Aden during the year 2012.

Most of the IDPs live in approximately two dozen IDP settlements in and around Bossaso and other IDP settlements in Garowe and Galkayo. These settlements also offer shelter to refugees and asylum seekers from Ethiopia and destitute communities from the surrounding areas/urban poor.

Main drivers and motivation for migration

Puntland has a government-estimated population of 2.4 million, 65% of whom are nomadic. It declared itself an ‘autonomous state’ within Somalia in 1998.  The  UNDP does not compile the poverty and development indices for the area. Poverty, insecurity and reported political-bases oppression in Ethiopia’s Ogaden region and South Central Somalia contribute to the surge in number of migrants flowing into Puntland. 

A vibrant money transfer network and a flourishing smuggling network exhibiting elements of organized crime combine to make Puntland attractive for mixed migrants.

As a country of mixed migration origin

Puntland is a country of origin for Somali migrants especially young and unemployed youths who choose to migrate to the Middle East and Europe in search of better livelihoods. The numbers of migrants originating from Puntland are however significantly less than migrants from Ethiopia and South Central Somalia.

As a country of mixed migration destination

Most of those coming to Puntland are seeking escape from harsh, oppressive and undesirable conditions elsewhere (mainly South Central Somalia and Ethiopia). They use Puntland as a transit territory to Yemen and the Gulf States. Some seek employment as casual labourers or domestic servants but this is mostly temporary to save enough money for the journey to Yemen. Many migrants have to work for over a year in Puntland to make enough money for the journey to Yemen. The Migration Response Centre (MRC) in Bossaso recorded increasing numbers (in the hundreds) of Somali returns from Yemen arriving in Bossaso.

As a country of mixed migration transit

Every year, tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers make the hazardous journey from Ethiopia and South Central Somalia to Puntland and onwards across the Gulf of Aden. Bossaso and its surrounding coastal points - which are dangerous to access - have been major transit points for irregular migrants en route towards the Gulf States. These migrants risk their lives in an attempt to make the sea voyage from Bossaso to Yemen. However the number of migrants utilizing the Bossaso crossing has significantly reduced in recent years. The operation of smuggling networks facilitates this migratory flow benefiting from the poor institutional capacity of Puntland’s authorities to monitor its borders and to manage migration. The Puntland administration claims they are active in the fight against smugglers; cracking down on them and confiscating their boats.. There have also been significant arrests of both smugglers and child traffickers especially in the years 2012-2013.

Characteristics of migration (means and modes)

Migrants arrive in Puntland through various means including air transport but mainly on foot and using mini-buses and other private vehicles. Those who can afford to, contract smugglers who organize road transport from as far as Mogadishu and Addis Ababa to Bossaso. From Bossaso they then use 'boat smugglers' to ferry them across the Arabian Sea to Yemen.

In previous years the reports of abuse and violence against the migrants during these journeys were frequent and severe.

Risks and vulnerabilities of mixed migration in Puntland

The journey from Bossaso to Yemen is hazardous and far longer than the crossing from Bab El Mandeb in Djibouti across the Red Sea. Cases of boats capsizing and deaths at sea are not uncommon. In recent years hundreds have been reportedly found dead along the Yemen coastline, most having been thrown overboard the over-crowded boats mid voyage and having been physically abused. Cases of robbery, sexual and physical abuse and extortion during the course of their journey are common. There are specific and frequent reports of sexual and physical abuse of migrants as they wait to board the smugglers' boats along the Somali coast. The perpetrators are reportedly the armed groups that control the smuggling as well as the captains and crew of vessels that transport the migrants.

National immigration policies

Puntland has a long coastline that makes it difficult to effectively police.

In Puntland, the Ministry of Interior and the Refugees Affairs Commission take the lead on trafficking issues. Puntland authorities operate a temporary transit and processing center (Migration Response Center) where Ethiopian migrants receive counseling and assistance from local and international humanitarian organizations.

There are reports that government officials may be involved in trafficking; business people involved in smuggling in Puntland, for instance, purportedly enjoy protection and work with the knowledge of influential officials within the administration. The Government has also tried to repatriate migrants to Ethiopia and South Central Somalia but the initiative is not very effective because many migrants are known to reattempt the journey.

National Legislation

International conventions: according to the Puntland State of Somalia Constitution, the Puntland government maintains the international conventions and treaties that the pre-1991 Somali Republic convened with foreign governments, provided these are not contradictory to Shari’a law or the interests of Puntland. As such, the Puntland State of Somalia is a party to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol, as well as a signatory to the OAU Refugee Convention and the Kampala Convention. Somalia has not signed or ratified the Palermo Protocols.

National legislation (asylum): with regard to asylum seekers, Article 19 of the constitution provides that ‘any foreigner who requests political asylum may be granted if he/she fulfils the terms and conditions for granting asylum and with respect to the international treaties.’

National legislation (trafficking and forced labour): Puntland has laws prohibiting forced labour, involuntary servitude and slavery. Trafficking for sexual exploitation may be prohibited under the most widespread interpretations of Shari’a and customary law, but there is neither a unified police force in the territory to enforce these laws, nor any authoritative legal system through which traffickers can be prosecuted. 

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