Key mixed migration characteristics

Situated in the extreme north of Somalia, Somaliland is an origin, destination and transit country for mixed migrants in the Horn of Africa.   Somaliland authorities estimate the population to be approximately 3.5 million. It declared independence from Somalia in 1991, but has not gained international recognition.

Somaliland is a transit country for the flow to the port of Bossaso in Puntland, north to Djibouti as well as across the Sahara desert passing through Ethiopia, Sudan, and Libya before crossing the Mediterranean Sea. Reports are emerging of cases of kidnapping for ransom and abuse of Somaliland youths migrating north to Libya. In October, 2012, Somaliland authorities resumed the registration of asylum seekers. 

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), during the months of August, September and October 2011, 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. The Somaliland National Youth Organization estimates that up to 50 youths are smuggled northwards to Sudan, Libya enroute to Europe every month.  

However, in 2011 following the Somaliland authorities announcement (from the Ministry of the Interior) that all 'unregistered' or 'undocumented' foreigners / 'illegal migrants' had one month to leave the country, they forcefully deported an unknown number (reportedly in the hundreds), mainly Ethiopians. Many others who had the means to do so reportedly returned to Ethiopia on their own. During this period, IOM assisted some 1,000 Ethiopians to return home from Somaliland as hostilities grew between the host communities and the migrants.

Somaliland is also host to a significant Internally Displaced Population (IDPs), mainly hailing from Somaliland itself but also from South-Central Somalia. The IDPs include those who are both of protracted displacement and newly arrived. Of note is that the categorization of an IDP, which varies with the authorities may incude returnees, urban poor communities, refugees and minority groups.

Most recent statistics

The town of Hargeisa in Somaliland is the point of convergence for migrants being smuggled (or making their own way) from Ethiopia and South-Central Somalia.

 It is estimated that 85,000 Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) are currently living in Somaliland, of whom 2,500 families are hosted in Mohammed Moge IDP camp, surviving some of the region’s worst living conditions.

Refugees and Asylum-seekers in Somaliland

According to the UNHCR Operation in Somalia there are some 84,000 people classified as 'population of concern'. Of this number a minority are refugees or asylum-seekers with just 1,885 registered as refugees and 5,149 as asylum seekers. The vast majority are IDPs (84,000), mainly from Somaliland itself with additional numbers from South Central Somalia.

Aid agencies in Somaliland estimate that there are at least 20,000 undocumented migrants in Somaliland, including unknown numbers of Ethiopian economic migrants and asylum seekers (who have not had the opportunity to register following suspension of registration in 2008). Since March 2012, UNHCR and the minister of interior have been re-registering asylum seekers who registered before October 2008, although it appears asylum claims have not all been reviewed.

Main drivers and motivation for migration

Mixed migration in Somaliland is characterized by a rising tide of Ethiopians and Somalis who seek refuge in Somaliland and overwhelmingly use it as a transit region to Puntland or Djibouti (exit countries to Yemen) or directly use the Somaliland coastlines to sail to Yemen.

Poverty/ economic reasons, insecurity and cultural links are the main drivers of mixed migration from and through Somaliland.  According to Somaliland's Operational Plan 2011-2015, DfID Operational Plan, June 2013 update the unemployment rate is above 60%. Women and girls suffer disproportionately – a woman has a 1 in 10 chance of dying during her reproductive years. Insecurity especially in South-Central Somalia and extreme drought (in the year 2011-2012) that affected much of the Horn of Africa, aggravated the dire conditions for many and increased the mixed migration flows.

Considering the level of poverty in Somaliland it is important to note that like Djibouti (also low ranking) citizens from Somaliland are not highly represented in the flow of mixed migration in the region, except for those educated  Somalilanders (mentioned previously).

As a country of mixed migration origin

Somaliland is a country of origin for mixed migrants especially for the youth (60 % are unemployed) who choose to migrate to either the Middle East or Europe in search of better livelihoods. Increasingly, more and more people are going to Libya using smugglers a recent trend not seen in 2011 and 2012.

The migrant figures from Somaliland are however negligible in comparison to Ethiopians and South Central Somalis.

As a country of mixed migration destination

Most of those entering Somaliland are reportedly seeking escape from harsh, oppressive and undesirable conditions elsewhere (mainly South Somalia and Ethiopia). The vast majority use Somaliland as a transit territory to Puntland or Djibouti en route to Yemen and the Gulf States. However a significant number also seek employment as casual laborers or domestic servants in Somaliland itself.

It remains to be seen how anti-migrant official policy will affect the characteristic of mixed migration in Somaliland.

As a country of mixed migration transit

As mentioned, Somaliland serves as a transit country for mixed migration flows towards Yemen, the Middle East, and beyond. Private vessels, normally operated by smugglers, depart from the Somaliland coast. The number of departures from the eastern side of Somaliland’s coast (close to Puntlands border) appears to be increasing as the Puntland authority’s clamp-down on smuggling is pushing smuggling operations from Puntland into Somaliland.

Recent reported figures have shown that the number of Ethiopians transiting through Somaliland has decreased especially after a government decree expelling undocumented foreigners (mostly Ethiopians) in 2011.

There has also been an increase in the number of Somalis who are opting to transit through the Djiboutian port of Obock to Yemen rather than from the Somaliland (and Puntland) coastline. In 2012, 25% of all arrivals in Yemen departed from Somaliland (and Puntland) coastline a 5% decrease as compared to 2011.

Characteristics of migration (means and modes)

Private vehicles and mini-buses organized by brokers/smugglers from the migrants’ point of origin (Mogadishu or cities in Ethiopia) are the most common means of transport involving mixed migration in Somaliland. Others make their way on foot.

Recent trends show that to escape sporadic attacks and insecurity in Lower Shabelle and Hiraan regions of South-Central Somalia, as well as checkpoints in Puntland, some migrants travel by air to Barberra and Hargeisa; a means that is increasingly considered conveniently safe, timely and cost-effective compared to travel by road.

Risks and vulnerabilities of mixed migration in Somaliland

In recent years there have been well-documented reports of robbery and violence towards migrants coming to and passing through Somaliland.

Despite the cessation of registration in 2008 many thousands of Ethiopians have left their homeland and entered Somaliland. It is not known how many of these would have registered as asylum-seekers if it had been possible. Instead those who have arrived since 2008 have an irregular status. Some pass through Somaliland in transit while others remain surviving on assistance, or casual employment and menial work. It is understood that despite being considered ‘second class’ residents in Somaliland they previously suffered little direct abuse or harassment.

Since the September 2011 proclamation instructing all undocumented migrants to leave Somaliland, various reports indicate that Ethiopians are experiencing xenophobic attitudes, are harassed by the authorities and members of the public and face forced deportation from the authorities. This is an on-going situation facing thousands of Ethiopians in Somaliland, although in recent weeks/months many thousand have also, allegedly, left Somaliland and returned to Ethiopia on their initiative.

As reported by Human Rights Watch, in December 2012, authorities forcibly returned 20 Ethiopians who were arrested a few days earlier during a meeting between refugee leaders and Somaliland officials at the Interior Ministry in Hargeisa. The report claimed that according to UNHCR fifteen members of the group were registered refugees and five were registered asylum seekers.

National immigration policies

The government in Somaliland is unhappy about the number of people caught up in mixed migration that pass through and/or reside in their territory. However their attitude towards Somalis from South-Central appears to be far more tolerant than that towards Ethiopians, allowing them to stay as 'IDPs' with other IDPs from Somaliland.

Somaliland ceased the registration of asylum seekers in 2008 but later re-opened it in 2012,but restricting the registration, to only migrants/refugees who arrived before 2008. Despite the move, migrants continued to flow into Somaliland up until 2011 when the government issued a decree expelling "80,000" unregistered foreigners. It remains unclear whether it was effected. The decree was reinforced in November 2011 with new laws outlawing the hiring and employment of undocumented foreigners in Somaliland.

According to the 2008 Trafficking in persons report there are laws in the Republic of Somaliland explicitly prohibiting forced labor, involuntary servitude, and slavery, but no specific laws exist against these practices in other parts of Somalia. 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 could be prosecuted.

National Legislation

The following legislation is of particular importance in the area of mixed migration:

International conventions: according to the Article 10 of Somaliland's constitution, the 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 Somaliland. As such, Somaliland 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 (immigration): Somaliland Immigration Law - Law No. 72, of 27 November 1995 is the main law governing immigration.[1] Labour Law, Article 32, Number 31/2004 prohibits all employers from employing foreigners residing illegally in Somaliland without work permits.[2] In October 2011, the Somaliland government issued a statement reasserting its commitment to enforcing this law. It was announced that inspection teams would start exposing illegal migrant workers. In July, 2013 Somaliland officials prosecuted 11 people on human smuggling charges.

National legislation (asylum): Article 35(1) of the Somaliland Constitution confirms that ‘any foreigner who enters the country lawfully or is lawfully resident in the country and who requests political asylum may be accorded asylum if he fulfils the conditions set out in the law governing asylum’.[3]

National legislation (trafficking and forced labour): Though legislation exists in the Republic of Somaliland that directly forbids forced labour and servitude, no specific laws apply against these practices in other areas of Somalia.[4]


[1] http://www.somalilandlaw.com/. Last updated December 2012.

[2] Somaliland Press, 2011.

[3] http://www.somalilandlaw.com/. Last updated December 2012.

[4] US Department of State, 2008, p. 277.

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