Author: Mohammed A. Gaas, May 18 2016 - I came home from work to find my wife, visibly worried, standing at the gate. She had news about my teenage nephew.

"Abdirisaq hasn't come home yet. Something must have happened to him. He’s never been out beyond 6pm", she stressed as she flexed her fingers.

I tried to calm her but as the evening progressed, I had no choice but to go out and look for him. The first place I checked was his friend’s home, only to find out that his friend was missing too.

I checked the hospital and the central police station in vain.

It was now approaching midnight and my search was unfruitful - he was nowhere to be found. We spent the long night calling relatives and thinking of places he might have gone.

Illegal migration

Our biggest fear was that he had decided to migrate, like so many young men in our community, and was on his way to Ethiopia. The practice of illegal migration is known here as ‘tahrib’.

Many young men like him dream of destinations in Europe, Canada, Australia and America, hopeful of a better and brighter life.

The next day, I left at dawn accompanied by a police officer, driving towards one of the main migration points at the border town of Toog Wajale.

On arrival we were told by an immigration official that he suspected my nephew had already left with people smugglers.

I tried to persuade him to accompany us in our search.

“I can’t because I am all alone here,” he said. “But I do know a young man who can help you.”

He took his phone out of the pocket and called. After 20 minutes or so, a young man came.

“This is Yassin” the immigration official said, “He will help you as he knows a lot about tahrib.”

People smugglers

As we drove back towards Kalabeydh, a small town north of Wajale, Yassin told me the people smugglers prey on young women and men at marketplaces and in the streets, falsely promising them lucrative jobs abroad. They transport them to Sudan through Ethiopia. When they reach Sudan, the traffickers, locally known as ‘magefe’, turn violent and hold them to ransom, demanding thousands of dollars from their parents or risk being left to die in the desert.

I asked him how he knew all this. He answered that he too had once fallen victim but luckily he was rescued before he crossed the Somaliland border.

It’s one of the topics addressed in the radio drama I work on - Maalmo Dhaama Maanta (A Better Life than Today). In fact, a recent episode featured a character being held for ransom in the desert by traffickers after unsuccessfully trying to migrate.

I desperately hoped my nephew hadn’t succumbed to the same fate.

When we reached Kalabeydh he told me to turn towards Borama and after about 15 kilometres he told me to follow a small rough road on our left which took us into some hills.

“They must be somewhere around here,” said Yassin, “We’ll have to hide the car and wait.”

It was getting late and I had almost lost hope, when we heard the sound of a vehicle. We rushed to our car and followed them at a distance.

The vehicle stopped and we also stopped. Spotting us, they drove off at high speed.


We raced to the place where the smugglers had first stopped and to our left saw a small group of figures sitting under a big tree about 40 metres from the road. They tried to run away as we approached them but were stopped in their tracks as the police officer fired into the air.

There were seven boys aged between 16 and 19 and Abdirisaq was one of them. We ushered them into the car. They looked tired and pale.

The boys said they had been walking around the check points all night and they hadn’t slept. They were brought to the tree at dawn and were given two loaves of bread and one and a half litres of water to share.

As we left for Hargeisa, I could see in their eyes betrayal and shame.

Radio drama

My nephew’s brush with Somalia’s people smugglers reminded me that, despite being a drama, Maalmo Dhaama Maanta is consistently grappling with very real issues. Issues that may even affect my own family. It’s this reflection of reality which makes the programme so powerful. I only wished that my own nephew had heard the episode about illegal migration, as it may have helped him understand the grave risks it involves.

The names in this blog have been changed.
Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their work in Somalia.
Image credit: BBC Media Action

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