A So­ma­lian so­lu­tion to the per­ilous ex­o­dus

Lesotho Times - - Opinion -

We were sit­ting in a crammed cafe in the swel­ter­ing heat of a Mo­gadishu af­ter­noon. The mish­mash of con­ver­sa­tion, clink­ing plates and loud horns from the street out­side forced us to speak loudly across our plates of rice. A 22-year-old man I will call Liban, to pro­tect his iden­tity, sat across from me. Gan­gly and burst­ing with fre­netic en­ergy, he was telling me of his plans to cross the Mediter­ranean Sea to en­ter Italy il­le­gally.

The topic came up ca­su­ally dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about a youth en­trepreneur­ship sum­mit I was or­ga­niz­ing that week. He told me about a friend who in­tro­duced him to a fixer last year, who then con­nected him with a smug­gler. He said his next step was to get to­gether the last por­tion of the $4,000 that he would pay for his jour­ney.

He pulled out a note­book and drew me a map. The plan was straight­for­ward: He would cross the ethiopi­aSo­ma­lia bor­der and meet with smug­glers in ethiopia. They would take him across the por­ous ethiopian bor­der with Su­dan and on to Khar­toum. From there, he would begin his jour­ney into Libya. In Tripoli, he would board a boat and cross the Mediter­ranean to the Ital­ian is­land of Lampe­dusa.

Swe­den was his fi­nal des­ti­na­tion. His cousin lived in Stock­holm and promised to house him and help him find a job. He cir­cled Swe­den em­phat­i­cally.

When I looked down, I couldn’t help but no­tice the crammed scrib­bles of qua­dratic equa­tions on the op­po­site page. He was in his fi­nal year at uni­ver­sity, hop­ing to be­come an en­gi­neer.two years later, I’m not sure where Liban is. I know he fin­ished his de­gree in math­e­mat­ics and is no longer in So­ma­lia’s cap­i­tal. But when­ever I read about the hor­rific cap­siz­ing of boats loaded with hun- dreds of mi­grants off the coast of Italy, I think of our lunch that day.

I can’t help see­ing an im­age of him in a rick­ety boat out at sea, crammed in with hun­dreds of oth­ers like cat­tle, swel­ter­ing un­der an un­for­giv­ing sun. I imag­ine him gaunt from de­hy­dra­tion, per­haps wit­ness­ing his fel­low pas­sen­gers turn­ing on one an­other, or worst of all, sur­rounded by scream­ing, strug­gling mi­grants as their boat founders.peo­ple of­ten ask me what drives young men like Liban to take a jour­ney that might very well lead to death. Are the pri­va­tions of the jour­ney, the abuse of traf­fick­ers and the risk of drown­ing worth the dis­tant hope of find­ing a job as a jan­i­tor in Stock­holm or pick­ing toma­toes in south­ern Italy? Why would a young man, a uni­ver­sity grad­u­ate, chance ev­ery­thing?

There is a So­mali proverb that comes to mind: Poverty is slav­ery.

In So­ma­lia, there is a pop­u­la­tion bulge of youths who live in a per­pet­ual limbo of hope­less­ness, never mov­ing for­ward, wait­ing for op­por­tu­ni­ties that never ar­rive, for a chance to give mean­ing to their lives. Like many of them, Liban did not face per­se­cu­tion or dan­ger, just a life with­out pur­pose or hope. That is why he and thou­sands of oth­ers have risked their lives each year, and will con­tinue to do so de­spite the re­cent head­lines about hun­dreds of mi­grants drowned.

The euro­pean Union seems to be in dis­ar­ray when it comes to deal­ing with the is­sue. Some Ital­ian of­fi­cials have called for stop­ping boats be­fore they de­part Libya, or forc­ing them to re­turn be­fore they land on Ital­ian shores. In­stead of ad­dress­ing what is push­ing th­ese mi­grants in the first place, Europe’s re­sponse has been to in­crease the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of its mar­itime bor­ders. The deaths of thou­sands of mi­grants, who are tak­ing more per­ilous routes to avoid cap­ture, have been the pre­dictable re­sult.

Ad­dress­ing the root causes of unau­tho­rized migration is one so­lu­tion. While some fled civil war, many more of those who have died were sim­ply seek­ing a bet­ter life. About two-thirds of So­mali youths want to leave the coun­try be­cause they are un­able to find work; in south-cen­tral So­ma­lia, which in­cludes the cap­i­tal, the fig­ure is as high as 87 per­cent. It is im­por­tant to iden­tify the com­mu­ni­ties at high­est risk of choos­ing il­le­gal migration and pro­vide them the liveli­hoods they so des­per­ately seek.

One suc­cess­ful model has been to train and sup­port young peo­ple in start­ing their own busi­nesses. Sev­eral or­ga­ni­za­tions that pro­mote en­trepreneur­ship now ex­ist in So­ma­lia, pro­vid­ing young peo­ple with a way to earn an in­come. They in­clude Shaqodoon, a So­mali youth-led or­ga­ni­za­tion, and Si­lat­ech, which aims to sup­port youth en­trepreneurs in the Arab world. Si­lat­ech has part­nered with money trans­fer busi­nesses in So­ma­lia to help fi­nance youth star­tups.

On a Pan-african level, the Nige­ria-based Tony elumelu Foun­da­tion started a $100 mil­lion ini­tia­tive this year to train and fi­nance an even­tual tar­get of 10,000 start-ups across the con­ti­nent. Of course, youth en­trepreneur­ship ini­tia­tives are not an al­len­com­pass­ing so­lu­tion, but they can help re­duce the num­ber of peo­ple who risk their lives cross­ing the danger­ous wa­ters of the Mediter­ranean in search of work.

In 2013, the euro­pean Union pledged 650 mil­lion eu­ros ($725 mil­lion) to So­ma­lia as part of $2.4 bil­lion in re­con­struc­tion aid from in­ter­na­tional donors. More of this money should be used to en­able So­ma­lis to earn a living at home.

As long as So­ma­lia’s thou­sands of young peo­ple are sti­fled by poverty and con­demned to hope­less, end­less wait­ing, they will con­tinue to risk their lives seek­ing bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties on the other side of the Mediter­ranean.

Ali, a 2013 New Voices fel­low at the Aspen In­sti­tute, is the founder of the Iftiin Foun­da­tion, an or­ga­ni­za­tion fos­ter­ing so­cial en­trepreneur­ship in So­ma­lia.

THOU­SANDS of African mi­grants risk life and limb for the per­ilous voy­age to Europe.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Lesotho

© PressReader. All rights reserved.