Somali people have been fleeing violence and famine for over 20 years. This has caused a humanitarian crisis that is often met with oppression and exploitation. Most countries along the refugee routes deny forced migrants basic human rights.
From violence to safety
Somali people were fleeing the violence and famine in their homeland even before the civil war broke out in 1991. My father along with many other Somalis sought asylum in Denmark as early as 1989.
However, with the growth in violence occasioned by the Ethiopian invasion of 2006, the exodus has severely increased. The majority of Somalis flee to neighboring countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya and Yemen.
Somalis, who flee their homeland may be defined as forced or economic migrants by some nation states and refugees by others, who are willing to recognize often ill-defined violence as persecution.
Migrants are denied basic human rights
Forced migrants and refugees often flee the same violence, but the former have few rights and are sometimes given some form of subsidiary protection, so that the hosting nation will not be accused of sending the migrant back into a zone in which his/her life is at risk.
On the other hand, refugees have the right to travel, work, and educate their children in a fashion equivalent to that of ordinary citizens. According to the Geneva Convention, the definition of a refugee is:
”a person, who because of a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable or owing to such fear unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.” (UN General Assembly 2007, 16)
If say a Somali is forced to migrate because of bandits that have cleared his/hers village, so they can take advantage of the food and livestock left behind, then how does one determine whether or not the migrant is, in fact, a refugee.
The perpetrators could have been made free to commit such atrocities by the chaos created by a larger pattern of persecutions. Nevertheless, the indeterminate nature of violence can make it relatively easy for nation states to deny refugee status to people who are directly or indirectly victims of war and persecution.
Somali diaspora provides financial support
Most countries do not welcome mass migration, so they create legal barriers for Somali migrants. In turn, Somalis create and participate in a transnational community (diaspora) that operates to overcome these barriers.
A worldwide network of money-wiring offices run by Somalis allows them to send money to friends and relatives even in the refugee camps. Meanwhile, organizations smuggle Somali migrants across borders and seas.
The current approach to the humanitarian crisis in Somalia hinders organizations charged with the care of refugees and forced migrants from carrying out their missions successfully. Instead of being a temporary solution, Dadaab has become the largest refugee camp in the world and has been operated as a human warehouse for nearly twenty years.
The current approach removes Somalis from the category of human through a discourse that selectively distributes human rights – rights that were supposed to be universal.
Rutledge, Doug and Roble Abdi, 2010, “The Infrastructure of Migration and the Migration Regime: Human Rights, Race, and the Somali Struggle to Flee Violence” in Race/Ethnicity: Multidisciplinary Global Perspectives 3 (2), pp. 153-178