In Somaliland, parents are trying to dissuade their children from dangerous and illegal migration to Europe by buying them second-hand cars that can be operated as taxis. These cabs, now ubiquitous in Hargeisa, the capital of the self-declared state in Somalia, have become known as hooyo ha tahriibin, which translates roughly as a mother pleading “my son, do not tahriib.”
Tahribi, the Arabic word for “smuggle” has come to mean illegal emigration in Somali, where the flood of young people attempting to leave for Europe is considered a national disaster. This is according to a recent blog post by Nimo-ilhan Ali, a doctoral researcher studying Somaliland at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Over the past few years, Somalis from Somaliland have been joining their counterparts fleeing civil war in Somalia for Europe by way of Ethiopia, Sudan, Libya, and the Mediterranean Sea—a dangerous sea crossing that claimed the lives of almost 4,000 refugees last year. So far this year, Somalis accounted for 8% of all sea arrivals into Italy, the third top source country of refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean.
According to Ali, one common assumption about refugee source countries like Somaliland is that families encourage emigration as a way to broaden their sources of income. But in Somaliland, most migrants are young men who leave on their own without their family’s approval or knowledge.
Smugglers transporting these migrants often demand ransoms and other expenses from the family later. According to Ali’s research, families in Somaliland spend on average about $7,661 on tahriib-related costs, a difficult expense to shoulder in a state where the GDP per capita is just $348 a year, the fourth lowest in the world. The smugglers sometimes demand ransoms from the families as they hold their son hostage.
By spending between $2,000 and $3,000 on a second-hand car, families hope to give their children a source of income and reason to stay.
It’s unclear whether this strategy is working. Youth unemployment in the self-declared state is estimated to be as high as 70%, but analysts say there are other reasons factoring into young people’s decision to leave, including Somaliland’s lack of international recognition, and the number of Somali people already living abroad.
Making money from the taxis also isn’t a sure bet. Hargeisa is now crowded with hooyo ha tahriibin taxis. “What is clear is that households in Somaliland are not encouraging their young to embark on the dangerous journey to Europe. Instead, they are proactively looking for ways to halt the trend,” Ali concludes.