Djibouti: The Next Thailand?

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We begin our journey in the crowded refugee camp of Ali Addeh, where women see their daughters disappear, or send them away themselves in search of income.

“My niece could not continue at school and has gone to Djibouti City, to make money”

The women are sitting on plastic garden chairs in the concrete office space of the UNHCR, the UN refugee organization. They have been selected to talk to me Office National d’Assistance aux Refugiés et aux Sinistrés is the local organization responsible for the management of the camp. “Fetch water. Look for firewood,” Yoroub says. “We don’t get fruit,” Zahra (32) says. “No protein.” A UNHCR field officer in Ali Sabieh adds that the distribution of food and cash is ensured by WFP through ONARS. “The food basket is made with flour, lentils, oil, sugar and salt. UNHCR also provide soap to all refugees (250g per individual) during the same distribution. Sanitary kits are provided to women aged from 13 to 49 years at least once a year.” Kalsouma adds: “Children are like flowers. They must grow.” Nothing comes to fruition in Ali Addeh, the women agree. “My daughter was allowed to go to a primary school. She finished but she never got her papers. She was not allowed to continue learning.”

“My sister’s daughter was living with me”, says Folsa (35). Five years ago, she, her three children and her 10-year-old niece fled from southern Somalia to Djibouti. “We hardly received any help. My niece only had one set of clothes. She could not continue at school and has gone to Djibouti City, to make money.” Wikileaks |Cable Djibouti Another cable reads: ‘Djibouti is less a country than a commercial city state controlled by one man, Ismaïl Omar Guelleh.’ Since independence from France in 1977, Djibouti has had a grand total of two presidents. Guelleh has run the country since 1999; before him it was his uncle Hassan Gouled Aptidon. called for a boycot of the elections. Guelleh promised to step down in 2016, but is currently preparing his fourth consecutive five year term, according to La Voix de Djibouti. The governance of Djibouti is a family business. Guellehs wife is the unofficial vice president. His half-brother is in charge of the port.


Forgotten refugees

These thousands of Somali refugees in Djibouti are virtually invisible and this is not just because their camp has been built in the middle of nowhere, far away from the coast in between two mountain ranges. Outside the camp, no one talks about their situation.

Not a single story about Somali refugees in Djibouti in 15 years
Dutch newspapers, for instance, do not cover the Somali refugees in Djibouti, as there has not been a single story about them for 15 years. Elsewhere, attention is equally scant. Since 2000, The Guardian has published 26 articles about Djibouti on its website, less than two per year. None of the stories mentioned the Somali refugees in the Ali Addeh camp. The New York Times has one story (among 40) about 100,000 migrants who were deported from Djibouti in 2003. That’s it. The Guardian | Djibouti & The New York Times

Coverage of the much larger number of Ethiopians and Somalis who travel via Djibouti to Yemen, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States, is similarly non-existent. “Vast numbers go through Djibouti,” confirms the local IOM office when asked. The International Organization for Migration estimates that every year some 100,000 migrants transit through Djibouti to the Arabian Peninsula. “That is one migrant for every eight citizens! They go to the port city of Obock and take a boat to Yemen. If that works, they continue to Saudi Arabia.” This is mixed migration, which means that not everyone crossing the Gulf of Aden to Yemen does so voluntarily. Economic migrant, refugees and trafficked people take the very same route.

Abused by human traffickers

The strait between Obock and Yemen is only 30 kilometers wide but the crossing is dangerous. Boats sink. Women and girls are raped. “Often the perpetrators are the same people smugglers they depend on to make it to the other side,” says an IOM representative. Out of Eden Walk, featuring an award-winning journalist who follows the first migration route from Africa.” “As soon as the migrants arrive in Yemen they are taken from the boats and kidnapped. They are sequestrated and only released when the family pays them a ransom. Thousands of euros.” Human Rights Watch report on torture camps in Yemen Men who have gone to the IOM’s emergency center to tell their story indicate that on arrival in Yemen they and the women and girls are taken off the boats, we learn from another source. Where they are now, and how many have gone missing, is unknown. From reading the reports one can suspect that there may be more than 16,000 women and girls unaccounted for. Abused and abducted

The trip to Yemen is relatively expensive and so the Ethiopian and Somali migrants stay in Djibouti City undocumented until they can pay a smuggler. IOM states that it is very difficult to have clear estimates. Other organizations also say that they ‘have no data’.
This year, there was a refugee movement in the opposite direction. 22,255 Yemeni refugees and migrants who had made an earlier crossing into Yemen fled into Djibouti as a result of the new civil war in Yemen. On August 15 there were no more than 2,2551 registered refugees, slightly more than 10 per cent of the total number of arrivals. Meanwhile, Ethiopian migrants continued to attempt crossing the strait into Yemen.

As young as 15, young people disappear from the camp

There are teenagers who leave by themselves. Others are told by their parents to go and look for work. “If a mother sends her daughter away, it is because the situation is desperate,” one of the women says. “We must feed other children too.” CIA World Factbook, 2014 Yet, none of the girls returns to Ali Addeh.

‘Sexual exploitation is happening in Djibouti City, the port city of Obock and along the trucking route into Ethiopia’
‘All people on the move—-whether refugees and asylees seeking safety, or economic migrants seeking improved livelihood-—have a right to freedom from exploitation and abuse of all kinds, including human trafficking’, according to the Report.
‘The Trafficking Victims Protection Act TVPA defines “severe forms of trafficking in persons” as: sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such an act has not attained 18 years of age; or the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery.’ Source: Trafficking in Persons Reports 2015

With 100,000 migrants traversing the country every year, as the IOM says, Djibouti clearly is a high risk area. It is hardly surprising, then, that in the TIP Report Djibouti is highlighted as ‘a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking.’

Forced sex work

The TIP Report indicates the scale of human trafficking in a country and the extent to which the government takes action against it. On the basis of these reports, every country is put in a so-called Tier; Tier 1 is the best category and Tier 3 the worst. A Tier 3 designation by the U.S. may bring consequences for future trade agreements and financial assistance to a country. Since 2011, Djibouti has been on the Tier 2 Watch List. If no measures are taken to prevent or to respond to trafficking, the country risks being downgraded to Tier 3.

The TIP Report says that in 2015 experts reported an increase in younger migrating children in Djibouti. They also talked about exploitation of migrant women and girls while they work as maids and about sexual exploitation in Djibouti City, the port city of Obock and along the heavy vehicle route between Ethiopia and Djibouti. There are also reports that human traffickers are abducting women women and gir and forcing them into sex work to pay for their release. Human traffickers have also been known to pay these ransoms in Yemen and Saudi Arabia but then continuing to trade the girls in the Middle East. Trafficking in Persons Reports 2015

The authorities in Djibouti do not have a system in place that can proactively identify victims of human trafficking, for example undocumented migrants or sex workers. Currently, these groups (including children) are deported after so-called round-ups. The authorities check their nationalities in order to remove them from the country, but they do not screen for human trafficking in their controls.

From brothel to brothel

“One of the side effects of the transport route,” says one of the women traveling with us. “The drivers stop here to eat or to sleep but mostly because of the sex workers.” She points at the shacks next to the resting place.

There were 2,430 sex workers arrested. 408 were between 10 and 17 years old.

It is an open secret that sex work is widespread along the international trucking corridors and a major factor in the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Africa. Trucking through the aids belt van The New Yorker, AIDS Fight Targets Southern Africa Truck Drivers & Research recommends how to tackle spread of HIV/AIDS by African truckers In 2013, a health center was opened at PK-12, a resting place for long-distance truck drivers, twelve kilometers from Djibouti City. Truckers may stay here for as long as five days, waiting for their load. ‘It is no surprise that many young people with few economic prospects are getting into the sex industry,’ says USAID, which helped set up the health centre, in a press statement when the facility was launched. Read the USAID press statement on PK-12

Sometimes, when quoting other sources, we have kept the word ‘prostitute’, even when the source refers to underage girls. However, this term does not cover realities on the ground, as sex with underage children is illegal and punishable by law. Underage children who have transactional for money are not child prostitutes, according to official definition; they are victims or survivors of statutory rape and trafficking. Moreover, the word ‘prostitute’ can describe an adult who offers sex work by choice and not through coercion or force. In such cases, some experts and activists prefer the term ‘sex worker’.
Commercial sex work is against the law in Djibouti. The police have a habit of organizing random raids, during which brothels are (temporarily) closed and sex workers arrested. A significant number of these ‘prostitutes’ is under age, claims a children’s charity, Humanium. Humanium was founded in Geneva in 2008 with a single purpose: the wellbeing of children worldwide. The association strives for a concrete improvement in their living conditions and their basic rights. ‘In 2009 there were 2,430 arrests made because of sex work. 408 among them were between 10 and 17 years old.’

From street kid to ‘sex worker’

From PK-12 the Highway continues to the Ambouli International Airport, south of the capital. To the West is Balbala, an impoverished area where many undocumented migrants look for a place to stay. Others end up in Quartiers 1-7, in the African part of Djibouti City. ‘Hardly anyone has water or electricity. But they still pay 30 to 70 dollars per month, for a shack.’ Women who work as cleaners for 20 days or more every month earn between 35 and 70 dollars a month, leaving not enough money to buy food. Djibouti: destitution and fear for refugees from Ethiopia

‘Migrant girls are deported unless they pay the police with sex’

The homes of migrants double as brothels, writes N. Omar in his yet to be published memoirs. U.S. Department of State The report’s first version appeared in 2001. The U.S. created the TIP reports to raise its own profile as a leader against human trafficking. ‘The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report is the U.S. Government’s principal diplomatic tool to engage foreign governments on human trafficking. Worldwide, the report is used by international organizations, foreign governments, and nongovernmental organizations alike as a tool to examine where resources are most needed.’

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Sex industry

In October 2015 when we paid the country a visit, we discovered that the scale on which human trafficking occurs in Djibouti should not be underestimated. Next to the trafficking along the migration route towards the Arabian Peninsula, it turned out a bustling nightlife had developed in Djibouti City. A nightlife in which undocumented Somali and Ethiopian women and girls perform sex work on a grand scale to cater to the needs of an ever-growing international party scene. Some international visitors even refer to Djibouti as the “Las Vegas of Africa.” A big part of the reason why this sex industry arose is the strong presence of foreign militaries.
From the Higher end, club scene prostitutes

To the Somali/Oromo end, hijab and Niqab wearing prostitutes.

Imagine if the West didn't open it's doors to Somali refugees, Kenya would have been the Pattaya of Africa.


Death Awaits You
when I used to live in Djibouti, there were few Ethiopian hookers. nothing major. this report could be true since large amount of Ethiopian migrants head to the middle east via Djibouti coastline.
most hookers are ethiopians
Uff, what a terrible profession due to the amount of Aids coming from Kenya and Ethiopia.


Yes, it's uuf given one has a comfortable life, but most of these women sought to sell their bodies in-order to survive. They send money back to their parents to survive and their children shooled and have a better future. They are the unlucky ones who don't live in a wealthy welfare country for the poor. Desperate situations demands desperate solutions.
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