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|ISSUE 52 January 18, 2003||
Somali Children Smuggled To U.S.
NAIROBI, Kenya, January 17, 2003 (AP) - Somali parents are hiring smugglers to bring their children to Europe and the United States, to protect them from the poverty and violence sweeping the African nation, a U.N. agency said on Friday.
"Child smuggling from Somali territories is now so widespread that it has become a critical informal institution," said an agency report.
"Those who arrange the transportation of children out of Somalia now consider it a legitimate strategy of survival."
Once they make it to a new country, most children end up with relatives or people from their clans and take new names, said the report by the Integrated Regional Information Networks, or IRIN.
Some apply for asylum, but many do not, and in worst-case scenarios they are used for domestic labor or prostitution, it said.
There are large communities of Somalis living in Britain, Sweden and the U.S.
Parents send the children abroad partly because of the violence in Somalia, which has not had an effective government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, but also because of a lack of education and health facilities in the Horn of Africa country.
They also see it as an investment, hoping their children will get jobs and send money back to Somalia, IRIN said.
Smugglers in Mogadishu, the Somali capital, told IRIN that up to 250 children were being sent out of the city every month before the September 11 attacks, but increased security at borders and international ports had reduced the number to between 40 and 60 - most of them teenagers.
The numbers are, however, increasing again, as smugglers use new routes, the report said, adding that it was impossible to calculate a precise figure.
Prices to smuggle a child abroad also doubled following the attacks on New York and Washington, rising from $3,500 to $7,000, the report said.
Abdulkadir Yahya, co-director of the Center for Research and Dialogue, a non-governmental organization in Mogadishu, said 20 to 30 children were being smuggled out of the capital each month.
Often parents raise money to send their children abroad by selling their houses and moving in with relatives, IRIN said.
"It's an economic system," said Lucy Hannan, the report's author.
"The only way to try and stop it is if Somalis are given an incentive to stay in the country and are given some sort of future."