(ERGO) – Dozens of school-aged children have been running away from home in recent months trying to get to Europe, according to the Somaliland authorities.
Khadra Ali Abdi, director of the children’s department in Somaliland’s ministry of employment and social affairs, said the border police and immigration officials had captured four children in Wajale, along the Ethiopian border, in the last 10 days trying to cross the border on the first stage of a migration journey. Their parents were contacted and told to come and collect them.
She said the children involved in these risky migration ventures were aged between 10 and 18 and came from the main towns in Somaliland, including Hargeisa, Gabiley, Burao, Berbera and Borama.
The chief of police in the border district of Gabiley, Mohamud Omar Suldan, told Radio Ergo that they held children in custody, separately from other criminal offenders, for 24 hours whilst tracking their parents. The parents sometimes call the police describing their missing children, asking for them to be intercepted at the border. The police chief said they routinely stop public vehicles at the border and check for unaccompanied minors, who may not be authorized to travel.
In the last six months, 50 children aged 10 to 18 years have been reported missing by their parents to the authorities. It is presumed that some if not all have crossed the border to embark on dangerous overseas trips to Europe.
The ministry reported some 200 children detained by police whilst trying to cross the borders with Djibouti and Ethiopia.
Adar Adan Ali, who lives in Hargeisa, said she sent her son aged 14 to school one morning last November and he did not return home. After two days she received a phone call from the police, who had detained him at Wajale immigration office.
“They asked me if I was aware about his trip, I wasn’t aware and I was so shocked. I couldn’t believe that I had sent him to school and he just decided to run away! I went and collected him. He is back in school now and I am lecturing him day and night,” Adar said, admitting to be fearful for her other children as well.
Khadra Ali Abdi said children were often felt pressured by their parents who forced them to stay in school against their will. They feel the certificates they get from local schools are not valuable when they apply for jobs. Khadra said the children were also swayed by their relatives and friends, who are leading better lives in Europe.
Police have warned that there are established smuggler rings operating in major cities working to facilitate the dangerous and illegal trips that young people and children are tempted to make. The police say the trend of school children escaping on overseas trips became apparent about two years ago. At that time, time around 50 children were captured at crossing points along the Djibouti and Ethiopian borders.