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Cablegate: Djibouti - Impact of Somali Refugees and Yemen-Bound

VZCZCXRO7197
PP RUEHDE RUEHROV RUEHTRO
DE RUEHDJ #0439/01 1280943
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 070943Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY DJIBOUTI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9228
INFO RUCNSOM/SOMALIA COLLECTIVE
RHMFIUU/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DJIBOUTI 000439

STATE FOR AF/E, PRM/AFR, S/CRS AND USAID
ADDIS ABABA FOR REFCOORD
NAIROBI FOR RDRAPCHO AND REFCOORD
GENEVA FOR KPERKINS
CJTF-HOA FOR POLAD

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS


E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREF SMIG EAID SO ET DJ YM XA
SUBJECT: DJIBOUTI - IMPACT OF SOMALI REFUGEES AND YEMEN-BOUND
MIGRANTS

REF: A) DJIBOUTI 437 B) DJIBOUTI 223 C) 07 DJIBOUTI 1004

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Representatives from the United Nations High
Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the National Office of
Assistance to Refugees and Disaster Stricken People (ONARS)--the
Government of Djibouti (GoDJ) office in charge of refugee
affairs--reported the ongoing arrival of refugees/migrants at the
Djibouti-Somaliland border and at the city of Obock, in the northern
region of Djibouti. As the refugees continue to arrive, UNHCR's
registration backlog continues to grow due to the increasing influx.
The migrants seek traffickers in a desperate attempt to cross the
sea to Yemen from Djibouti. The GoDJ only grants prima facie
refugee status to those from southern Somalia. END SUMMARY.

--------------------
REGISTRATION BACKLOG
--------------------

2. (U) On March 20, UNHCR reported an estimated 1,500 refugee
registration backlog. Both UNHCR and ONARS lack human and technical
resources to screen, house, and feed the refugees, creating a
registration backlog. Those who traveled to Djibouti to seek refuge
wait at the border for ONARS and UNHCR every day. ONARS picks them
up once a day or every other day, conducts a head count at the
border, loads the refugees onto the back of a truck, and takes them
to the ONARS compound in Djibouti city where they will stay for up
to two days, waiting for registration. UNHCR receives many of the
refugees from ONARS without registering and/or screening them.

--------------------
REFUGEES OR MIGRANTS
--------------------

3. (U) Not all crossing the border seek refugee status in Djibouti;
many intend to use Djibouti as a transit point to Yemen, which will
eventually lead them to the Middle East in search of economic
opportunities. Migrants quickly make their way to Djibouti
city--less than 20 kilometers away from the Loyada border crossing
between Djibouti and Somaliland--seeking traffickers to assist
taking them to the coastal town of Obock, 230 kilometers north of
Djibouti city and across the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, a relatively
short crossing to Yemen.

4. (U) While in Djibouti city, migrants seek shelter with friends
and family, in mosques, and in smugglers' safe houses. Many of the
most vulnerable new arrivals-- including large numbers of
unaccompanied minors, women and children--can be found sleeping in
the streets. The refugee influx has created more competition for
space and food among the already impoverished population.

--------------------------
MIGRANTS DETAINED IN OBOCK
--------------------------

5. (U) On March 16, UNHCR Representative Ann Encontre and the
Secretary General of the Ministry of Interior and Executive
Secretary of ONARS, Mr. Hassan Omar, visited a detention center in
the coastal town of Obock, located in the northern region of
Djibouti. During their visit, they witnessed over 200 people
crammed in a room not meant to hold more than 20 people. The
detainees consisted of Somalis, Ethiopians, and Eritreans. The
police intercepted the migrants as traffickers attempted to travel
with them by sea between Djibouti and Yemen. The Obock Commissioner
fed the detained migrants rice once a day, using his personal
funds.

-------------------------------
GODJ CRACKS DOWN ON TRAFFICKERS
-------------------------------

6. (U) Mr. Omar reported that since the Government of Yemen
complained about refugees exiting Djibouti, and attempting to enter
the Yemen via the sea, the GoDJ has taken appropriate measures to
contain the movement of migrants. The UNHCR office in Yemen
confirmed the Government of Yemen's complaints. The GoDJ has begun
to crack down on the traffickers and their middlemen, rounding up
illegal migrants considered being transits. In March, the GoDJ
captured 180 migrants during raids in Obock. Those complicit in
trafficking were arrested, and three boats and a vehicle were seized
during the operations. In their attempt to halt the trafficking,
the GoDJ created checkpoints on suspected travel routes to intercept
traffickers; however, migrants found alternate routes to Obock.

7. (U) Traffickers charge USD 100-150 for a journey from Djibouti to
Yemen. Migrants pay the money to the middlemen, who work from
kiosks in town. Despite the improbability of boats leaving the
country due to the increased patrolling by police and coast guard
units, migrants have been more than willing to pay as they are
promised and/or in search of a better life. Too often the migrants
never reach the shores of Yemen. The traffickers will sail around
Djibouti's coastal waters overnight; then drop the migrants off on
the shores of Djibouti, assuring them they have arrived in Yemen; or
the migrants are thrown off the boat and forced to swim at least one
kilometer to the shores of Yemen, causing many to lose their lives
by drowning.

8. (U) UNHCR reported that the crackdown has caused many of the
migrants choosing to transit to lie low in the city, waiting for an
opportunity to arise and for the Yemen transit to resume.
Meanwhile, many have decided to travel the long and dangerous path
from Obock through Eritrea and on to Sudan, and Libya.

--------------------------
SEEKING REFUGE IN DJIBOUTI
--------------------------

9. (SBU) Despite the mass movement to seek refuge in the Middle
East, many Somali refugees continues to cross at Loyada seeking
refuge in Djibouti. Since independence in 1977, Djibouti has been
accepting refugees from its neighboring countries. Today, it
continues, despite the fact that they do not have the infrastructure
or the means to cope with the flow of the incoming refugees and
migrants. Mr. Omar is afraid the GoDJ will soon close its borders.
He identifies the need for Djibouti to act quickly; however, he sees
no solution in the near future.

10. (SBU) Economic migrants from Ethiopia and some Eritreans fleeing
harsh conditions reportedly cross the border and mainly take refuge
in Djibouti city. Mr. Omar spoke of an increasing number of
pastoral populations from the Ogaden area in Ethiopia's Somali
Regional State, who enters Djibouti fleeing the current political
situation and drought. The UNHCR representative reported that the
GoDJ avoided publicizing the situation, not wanting to displease
Ethiopian authorities. Except for southern Somalis, no other newly
arriving refugees are granted prima facie status; instead, they must
undergo screening by the national eligibility commission, jointly
operated by ONARS and UNHCR on a case-by-case basis. The GoDJ to
date has not opened the latter possibility to arrivals originating
from the Ogaden, fearing an additional influx of refugees.

11. (SBU) COMMENT: The GoDJ and UNHCR see no end to the refugee and
migrant influx. UNHCR's projected 2008 refugee arrival numbers have
reportedly already been attained before the first quarter of this
year. All refugee agencies in Djibouti are overwhelmed by the
situation. Post will be preparing a Section 1207/1210 proposal
outlining border security needs and other concerns of the GoDJ
resulting from this recent influx of refugees from southern Somalia,
including the need to construct border crossing stations at Loyada
and other areas along the Djibouti-Somalia border. END COMMENT.

SYMINGTON

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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