People-smuggling capital of Africa: the port of Bossaso in the Republic of Puntland has developed into a major transit point for smuggling people from all over the developing world into the Gulf states and Europe. The operators care little about the lives of their 'customers' and the country has few resources to deal with this international crime. Milan Vesely reports.

Author:Vesely, Milan

With the collapse of Somalia's central government in 1991, the Republic of Puntland unilaterally set itself up as a separate country. Situated opposite the Yemeni coastline on the Gulf of Aden, Puntland's main port of Bossaso has since grown into a thriving trading centre; and not just because of the commercial goods transiting through this small port on their way to Mogadishu and the interior of landlocked Ethiopia.

Bossaso has become the centre of a massive people-smuggling operation--part of the worldwide network of transit stations used by international gangs trafficking in human misery. Bossaso port is only a 20-hour boat ride from the Yemeni coast.

A short sea trip followed by a day's bus ride down the Arabian Peninsula brings the lure of lucrative jobs in Saudi Arabia or Dubai within reach of any illegal immigrant--and that's a prize that few of them are able to resist even if it means paying up to $5,000 each for the people-smuggler's services.

These would-be illegal immigrants trust their fate to shadowy traffickers, but how many of their number actually reach their destination after surviving the harrowing journey across the Gulf of Aden is difficult to estimate.

Reports of 200 persons drowning at sea have been of sufficient frequency to make one believe that many immigrants perish to get across. Despite this there has been no let-up in the numbers chancing their luck. Demand has kept criminal gangs fully occupied, despite an increased crackdown by many international agencies.

Long a transit point for indigenous Somalis on their way to the Middle East, Bossaso has also become a way station for Asians seeking a better life in the countries of the enlarged European Union (EU). It has also rapidly become a rest point for migrants seeking to reach Italy, Germany, UK and other member nations of the EU. Bossaso now regularly hosts migrants from as far away as Sri Lanka, China and the Philippines, in addition to those from Kenya, Somalia, Tanzania and even Zimbabwe.


In the month of April alone there were 470 Sri Lankans in Bossaso town, many of them surprised to find themselves in an obscure Somali port, rather than in the Italian coastal town they had been told to expect.

"I do wonder why our agents brought us here when they told us that they would take us directly to Italy," Sri Lankan Inda Kumar confessed. Some of Kumar's compatriots have been stranded in Bossaso for up to a year, but nevertheless he says he is...

To continue reading