Djibouti: UN agency struggles
to manage thousands of asylum seekers
2 September The government in Djibouti has extended by two weeks the
deadline for the departure of illegal immigrants from the East African country,
where the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been struggling
to cope with thousands of people who thronged a transit centre in a last bid
to apply for asylum and legalize their stay.
Citing security and economic
concerns, the government of Djibouti had given illegal immigrants up to 31
August to leave the country. An estimated 10,000 people, instead of the expected
4,000, turned up at a stadium in the Djibouti capital, Djibouti, where they
had been asked to gather ahead of their transfer to a transit centre at Aour-Aoussa,
some 120 kilometres away.
“By Saturday, the
stadium was teeming with illegal immigrants mixed with asylum seekers, the
former anxious to find ways of legalizing their stay in Djibouti ahead of
the 31 August deadline for their departure from Djibouti,” UNHCR spokesman
Rupert Coleville said in Geneva today.
The large turnout at the
stadium on quickly outstripped the vehicle capacity arranged by UNHCR, forcing
the government to provide additional trucks to transport the waiting crowds
at the stadium to the transit centre.
“All activities at
the transit centre were completely paralysed by the unruly mobs at the centre.
Neither registration of genuine asylum seekers nor food distribution could
be started over the weekend,” Mr. Coleville said.
Government officials have
since deployed military personnel to man the perimeter of the transit centre
and police to instil order inside the facility.
UNHCR staff, working with
Djibouti government officials, yesterday begun to separate the large crowds
of people into three distinct groups: asylum seekers with or without attestations,
Somalis from areas south of the Somali capital, Mogadishu and others who are
likely to include villagers from the local community.