|03DJIBOUTI1510||2003-08-18 13:40:00||CONFIDENTIAL||Embassy Djibouti|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
1. (C) Hundreds of illegal aliens took to the streets on
August 16 to protest the Djiboutian Government's declaration
that all illegals must depart the country by August 31. As
the deadline approaches, Djiboutian security forces are
conducting regular sweeps of the city. Over 300 persons per
day reportedly are leaving voluntarily. Many other suspected
illegals are being detained in often overcrowded and
unsanitary detention facilities as they await deportation.
Human rights activists report deaths related to mistreatment
of deportees. The Government of Djibouti initially pressured
the World Food Program to divert food stocks designated for
Food for Work and school feeding programs to detention
facilities but has now withdrawn its request.
2. (C) Although the new policy has drawn widespread public
support, the sweeps have also created a climate of
uncertainty among local residents, many of whom now carry
identity cards for fear of being detained. Although the
expulsions are ostensibly an attempt to improve poor economic
conditions by creating more jobs for Djiboutians, they are
widely perceived to be the result of American pressure on the
government to tighten security. The Djiboutian government
has done nothing to dispel this impression. We will need to
stress to our interlocutors that a pattern of human rights
violations could negatively impact our bilateral
relationship. We may also wish to mount a renewed public
relations campaign, in conjunction with the U.S. military
camp, to emphasize U.S. humanitarian activities. End Summary.
3. (C) The Ministry of Interior's July 26 declaration that
all illegal aliens must leave the country by August 31 has
drawn increasing public attention in Djibouti city.
Illegals, mostly from Ethiopia and Somalia, comprise a
significant portion of the population. Many work in blue
collar positions which some Djiboutians have declined to
4. (C) Several hundred aliens participated in two separate
August 16 demonstrations against the expulsions. In one
demonstration, several hundred Somaliphone ethnic Issa
Ethiopians protested at the National Office for Assistance of
Refugees and Displaced persons. These demonstrators perceive
President Ismail Guelleh as a clan father figure who
encouraged them to relocate to Djibouti during the civil war
in the early 1990's to support his efforts against the
northern Afar districts of Djibouti. They now feel betrayed
by the new policies which will repatriate them to an
unfamiliar Ethiopia. Riot police closely observed this group
of demonstrators but did not apprehend or detain anyone.
5. (C) A second group of non-Issa Ethiopians appealed to the
National Population Center for an extension of the August 31
deadline. This group complained that they had been unable to
settle their business interests here in Djibouti, were still
owed salary arrears, and needed a few extra weeks to prepare
themselves for departure. Police in riot gear filled two
military trucks with approximately fifty individuals from
this second group and reportedly dropped them at the
Ethiopian frontier in the late evening of August 16.
SWEEPS AND DEATHS
6. (C) The National Police and Gendarmerie of Djibouti have
begun rounding up, detaining, and deporting suspected
illegals. They are held at the Nagad detention center near
Camp Lemonier and then either trucked to the border or loaded
onto the Djibouti-Addis Ababa train. According to a Somali
domestic of an Embassy FSN, he was held for six days in Nagad
in a room packed so tightly with people he could hardly move.
He reported receiving three meals in the six day period
before a police captain became so disgusted with the stench
emanating from the chamber that he ordered his subordinates
to evacuate some of the occupants before they died. The
domestic reported that the group was divided into Somali and
non-Somali Ethiopian ethnicities. The Somalis were told to
leave and not come back while the Ethiopians were returned to
the detention cell. The domestic returned to the Embassy
FSN's home to gather some clothes and money before departing
7. (C) Jean Paul Noel, President of the Djiboutian League of
Human Rights, told Emboff on August 12 that some illegals had
already died in the deportation process. Noel stated that
two persons recently perished after Ethiopian security forces
refused to accept them at the frontier because they were
originally from Somalia. The Djiboutian security forces at
the scene reportedly refused to take them back to Djibouti
City. They were left to walk in an unfamiliar area without
food or water and perished. Noel reported that four persons
died in similar fashion on the Somaliland frontier. He added
that two Ethiopian prostitutes died in detention on the
Ethiopian frontier after a sweep brought a truck full of
women from Djibouti city to the border without documentation.
Rumors of rape and mistreatment of suspected illegals abound,
but post is unable to verify these allegations.
APPEAL TO WFP
8. (C) World Food Program (WFP) logistics chief and acting
director Robert Gillenwater reported that he was under heavy
pressure from the Minister of the Interior to divert U.S.
food stocks from Food for Work and School feeding programs to
detention centers. The Minister has since withdrawn this
request due to the anticipated negative public perception
that Djiboutians would be losing food aid to foreigners.
9. (C) The Minister has persuaded UNHCR to construct a
"transition center" in the southern district of Ali Sabieh to
hold three to four thousand individuals claiming asylum or
urban refugee status. Rafik Said, UNHCR's principal
administrator for the Africa office on temporary duty in
Djibouti, told Emboff that the center's purpose was to vet
the over 12,000 people granted "urban refugee" status by the
Djiboutian National Office for Assistance for Refugees and
Displaced Persons over the last three years. When queried as
to where the resources for this action would be found Mr.
Said responded that there was already a small budget for the
urban refugee population and that UNHCR had certain "surplus"
resources both in WFP warehouses and in non-foodstuff goods.
SCRAMBLE FOR DOCUMENTATION
10. (C) Djiboutian law states that citizenship is based on
proof of the Djiboutian nationality of both parents. In
practice, however, Djiboutian nationality appears to be
available to those willing to pay an adequate price.
Observers suggest it is more readily available to Somali Issa
applicants than to others. Many residents of Djibouti have
previously had little use for identity documents. Students,
for example, who have recently completed their high school
studies and wish to study abroad have typically only then
commenced the registration process directly with local
authorities. One of Post's Yemeni FSNs was born in Djibouti
to parents who have lived in Djibouti since the 1940's but
only last week sought to obtain his identity card. He
reported that he was refused several times before being
granted audience with the director of the National Population
Center, at which time he was able to obtain an identity card
for 100,000 DF (about $500).
11. (C) In recent weeks, crowds at the Population Center have
become increasingly unruly, but it is difficult if not
impossible to gain admittance. Mahdi God, editor of the
weekly "La Realite", told Conoff that appointments at the
Population Center were only available to applicants who were
Somali Issa or closely tied to a political heavyweight. This
practice, if true, will strengthen the already strong Issa
electoral majority, as identity cards afford the right to
TIED TO U.S. SECURITY CONCERNS?
12. (C) Djibouti city becomes quieter and emptier as the
illegal population dwindles. Many Djiboutians now
increasingly make sure that they do not leave home without a
copy of their identity card for fear of being detained.
Djiboutians on vacation in Ethiopia claim to have been
attacked and some have returned home to Djibouti rather than
13. (C) The publicized rationale for the dragnet against
foreigners, and the main basis of its popularity, is that it
is necessary to address the unemployment rate among
Djiboutians, thought to be as high as sixty percent. The
targets of the new policy are almost entirely Somalis
(largely from Somaliland) and Ethiopians (both of Somali and
non-Somali ethnicity). Djibouti's population includes
significant numbers of Somalis or Afars from Somaliland and
Ethiopia, but of an earlier generation. While there are no
reliable statistics on the number of illegals in Djibouti,
they are sure to number tens of thousands in a country whose
population is far less than one million.
14. (C) However, Djiboutian sources tell us that police on
the streets are explaining that their actions stem from U.S.
pressure to improve security and control Djibouti's borders.
Djiboutian leaders have done nothing to reverse this
A POPULAR MOVE, BUT WITH WHAT CONSEQUENCES?
15. (C) Opinion is split as to whether Djiboutians will be
willing to undertake many of the jobs now filled by illegals.
Daher Ahmed Farah, a prominent oppositionist whom we might
have expected to support the cause of the illegals, told us
August 12 that he felt the economic conditions in Djibouti
had reached such lows that Djiboutians were ready to step in
and accept any wage-paying position. He strongly supported
the expulsions, also on security grounds.
16. (C) The illegals make up an overwhelming percentage of
the domestic worker population in Djibouti and many
Djiboutians, including Embassy employees, will be impacted by
the loss of their household staff. A female FSN noted that
the Djiboutian men all support the action because none of
them will have to cook or watch the kids after the domestics
depart. "Djiboutians might work for you expats," she said,
"but not in the home of another Djiboutian." Heretofore, the
social connotation of being a wage laborer cleaning or
swinging a shovel has discouraged many Djiboutians from
accepting these jobs even when offered. Jean Paul Noel
lamented that he would have much preferred to hire a fellow
Darod clansmen as his household guardian but that he had been
forced to hire an Oromo because none of his clansmen would
take the job.
17. (C) A female Djiboutian judge told Charge privately that
she believed the Minister of Interior's policy was correct.
She insisted, however, that the new regulations were not
directed at household staff, particularly those who, though
themselves illegally resident in Djibouti, are working for
relatives who are Djiboutian or permanently resident here.
Nonetheless, when Charge asked whether a legal mechanism
existed for concerned employers to obtain residence or work
permits for their staff, she could not provide a definitive
COMMENT: ARE THE EXPULSIONS REAL?
18. (C) Expulsions of foreigners are nothing new in
Djibouti--sweeps are a regular feaure of the landscape. This
newest effort has the ring of greater seriousness, but its
long-term viablity is still open to question, as no efforts
are being made to record or register the deported aliens.
19. (C) The current popularity of the policy is likely to be
short-lived if significant social services are disrupted
following the mass exodus of affected laborers. Djiboutians
already frequently deplore the perceived detioration of
sanitation and public works under the current administration.
20. (C) The return of many deportees may be inevitable, in
the absence of a much more systematic approach. The USG is
assisting the Djiboutian Government in its efforts to control
its borders and identify floating populations. USG programs
currently on-deck will target these areas and should help in
the registration and identification of persons entering and
leaving the country.
21. (C) We are disturbed by the recent allegations of abuses
of the deportees, all the more so because the most recent
expulsions are widely believed to be the result of U.S.
pressure to beef up security. In our discussions with our
Djiboutian interlocutors, we must take every opportunity to
stress that such actions will not be tolerated, and that a
pattern of human rights violations could adversely affect the
bilateral relationship, including the provision of
assistance. We are also working with the U.S. military at
Camp Lemonier to explore the possibility of a renewed public
relations campaign to highlight U.S. civil affairs projects.