After failing to make ends meet in Sudan, Emebet and her family decided to return to Ethiopia.

Sold False Hopes: Somali, Kenyan Migrants Stranded in War-Torn South Sudan

Earlier this month, IOM, the UN Migration Agency assisted 21 stranded migrants in South Sudan return home to Kenya and Somalia. The migrants, who had been attempting to irregularly cross the border into Sudan were picked up by South Sudanese authorities in August. As they did not have official travel documents, they were flown to Juba with financial support from the Somali Business Association of South Sudan.

There, they were detained for immigration offences. It was at this point in early September that the Embassy of the Federal Government of Somalia in Juba approached IOM to push for their release, and facilitate their voluntary return to their respective countries of origin.

Somalia ranks highly as a country of origin in the East and Horn of Africa region, with the greater part of emigration having taken place during the last 25 years due to conflict, chronic insecurity and extreme poverty. The diaspora population is estimated to be around 1.5 million located all over the world, contributing a between USD 1.3 and 2 billion per year.

Research undertaken by IOM has shown that reasons for Somalis to leave their country are mainly of a socio-economic nature. These include finding better employment in general and earning some money. The findings demonstrate that while unemployment is not always the main driver of migration, economic factors generally are. 

These findings also mirrored the experience of two Kenyan migrants who were part of the group that IOM helped get home. Misheck (not his real name) had attempted to make his way to Khartoum, Sudan in the hopes of better employment opportunities. A student in Kenya, Misheck was informed by friends and family, who had undertaken the journey, that lucrative opportunities lay in store if he could only make it to Khartoum. Hearing this, he embarked on the dangerous journey with a cousin from Mogadishu through South Sudan, headed north towards the Sudanese capital.  

The group crossed into South Sudan through the “Western Route,” which is one of four main migration routes out of the Horn of Africa region. Migrants using this route commonly cross into Sudan and then to Libya and onwards to Europe. Some of the migrants left Somalia by plane to Nairobi, then traveled to Uganda and into South Sudan. Others travelled by road the entire journey.

The migrants told IOM staff how they had been transported by smugglers in trucks in Uganda, hidden amongst vegetable sacks. One of the group suffocated during the journey and died.

“We are seeing an increasing number of migrants being intercepted by the South Sudanese authorities,” said Isaac Munyae, IOM’s Programme Manager for Migration Management in South Sudan. “It has become evident that there is a need for both state and non-state actors to increase focus on mixed migration responses, which consider displaced people, refugees and migrants.

Munyae added, “We also need to bring awareness to human smuggling in this region so that migrants’ rights are protected. We should not criminalize the victims but apprehend the smugglers and traffickers. They must not be left to operate with impunity.”

Smugglers charge between USD 8,500 and USD 11, 000 per person for the journey from Somalia to Libya, according to an official from the Somali Embassy in Juba. “The Embassy has been collaborating with the security agencies of South Sudan to stop the traffickers and their business of tahrib (migration) but agents are many and they have a lot of money to buy their way,” said a Consular official at the Somali Embassy.

IOM, in coordination with the Government of the Republic of Kenya and the Federal Government of Somalia, supported the 21 migrants stranded in South Sudan by processing their exit documentation and facilitating logistics for their voluntary return to Somalia and Kenya.

Upon arrival in Somalia and Kenya, IOM missions in both countries received the migrants and will provide reintegration assistance, including onward travel assistance to their homes and a reintegration grant tailored to their needs to help them rebuild their lives.

While in detention in Juba and prior to their voluntary return, IOM provided medical care to four migrants suffering from malaria and distributed dignity kits, which contained health and sanitary items (for the two women in the group).

One migrant told IOM staff, “Life has been very difficult along the journey. We had been promised job opportunities in Khartoum and some of us wanted to get to Italy to join our brothers, who went before us. This is no longer possible, and we are grateful for the assistance IOM is providing us to get back home. We need more opportunities to get employment and some business support. Lack of these opportunities are definitely a contributing factor to our decision to leave.”

Return and the reintegration assistance is funded by the European Union through the Facility on Sustainable and Dignified Return and Reintegration in Support of the Khartoum Process which facilitates orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration management through the development and implementation of sustainable return and reintegration policies and processes.