From file. This photo shows a group of Ethiopians about to board a smugglers boat in Djibouti in July 2019 | Photo: Nariman El-Mofti/AP Photo
From file. This photo shows a group of Ethiopians about to board a smugglers boat in Djibouti in July 2019 | Photo: Nariman El-Mofti/AP Photo

The government of Djibouti announced a crackdown on migrants entering the country without papers at the end of April. Djibouti is on a key migrant route for migrants coming from the Horn of Africa and the Sahel regions.

State-run television in the Red Sea state of Djibouti on the Horn of Africa announced on Sunday (April 30) that the government would be cracking down on migrants who entered the country without papers.

According to the French news agency Agence France Presse (AFP), at least 3,000 migrants were rounded up by police at the weekend. The Interior Minister Said Nouh Hassan was reported as saying his country had become "saturated" by an influx of people from neighboring countries.

In 2022, at least 220,000 people are said to have arrived in Djibouti without papers. Many of them hope to cross the Red Sea towards the Arabian peninsula, others travel through Djibouti on their way towards Europe, although this is a less frequent route.

Djibouti shares borders with Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia. It is also in the same region as South Sudan and Sudan, so the crackdown at this time could be expected to affect anyone deciding to flee the current fighting in Sudan.

'Emergency operation'

"The security forces were forced this Sunday….to carry out an emergency operation to combat crime and the trafficking of illicit goods observed in a certain sector of Djibouti city," Hassan told the state-run RTD television station, according to AFP.

The group of 3,000 migrants detained were taken to deportation centers and would be transported in trucks back to their country of origin, said Hassan. He promised to continue operations "throughout the territory."

Migrants who entered the country without papers, but had already found work in the informal sector, would be given the opportunity to register so they could be provided with "circulation documents" said the minister. But anyone without work should "return immediately and voluntarily to their country of origin."

30-day deadline to comply with new rules

The minister announced a 30-day deadline for migrants to comply with the new rules. One man who doesn’t have a job told AFP that "illegal migrants are like a time bomb in Djibouti, there are so many of them."

According to the Vatican’s country page on the situation for migrants and refugees within Djibouti, "in recent years, Djibouti has experienced different migration flows." Some travel through Djibouti wanting to reach the Arabian peninsula. Others are returnees, mainly from Ethipoia, who hope to go back to their country. However, due to droughts and political and economic instabilities, not all of them find a way to travel back home.

The harbor in Djibouti City is the country’s biggest financial resource according to the Vatican and attracts a lot of migrant workers hoping to find employment there. Djibouti also has internal migration, with herders from rural areas having to move in the search for water. Others in rural areas will migrate from countryside to city in the hope of finding work.

About 60% of Djibouti’s one million inhabitants live in the capital city. According to the Vatican, there are about 119.700 international migrants in Djibouti, which accounts for about 12.1% of the population.

Gateway to Europe, Asia and Africa

Because of its strategic position, Djibouti is seen as a gateway from the Horn of Africa towards Europe, Asia and Africa. In June 2021, the Djibouti population flow monitoring points recorded 11,462 movements through the country.

Traveling through Djibouti is dangerous for migrants. Many who hope to reach the Arabian peninsula are at risk of kidnap, being trafficked or held for ransom on their way to try and reach the Djiboutian coast.

The Ministry of Interior estimated that around 127,000 migrants reside in Djibouti without documentation, many of them are classed as economic migrants, states the Vatican website. Most of these migrants work in the informal sector when they do find jobs, doing work as domestic servants, masons, mechanics, guards or working in construction and IT, or in small businesses and shops.

Who are the refugees and asylum seekers?

Residents of Djibouti receive relatively low salaries, but because the two main languages in the country are French and Arabic, most Djiboutians don’t emigrate as the surrounding countries tend to use English for business purposes. Education levels are also relatively low in the country so there is a lack of skilled workers who might have been expected to find jobs abroad on the Arabian peninsula.

By August 31, 2021 Djibouti was estimated to be hosting around 34,005 refugees and asylum seekers. The majority of those came from Somalia and Ethiopia. Some also came from Yemen and Eritrea. Just over half of this population was male and just under half female. The vast majority of them were under 59 years of age.

There are three main camps for registered refugees and asylum seekers in Djibouti. The UN Migration agency IOM also operates in the country.


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