Little-known and tiny Djibouti in Africa is now one of the most important countries on the planet thanks to its strategic location. It lies at the Gate of Lamentations, a strait connecting the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. It is here that the eyes of the whole world are now directed because of the Yemeni rebels who are shelling cargo ships in retaliation for the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip. And also because of migration.
After Gambia and Swaziland, Djibouti is the smallest country in Africa, with just over a million inhabitants. Its enormous geopolitical importance lies in where it lies. One of the busiest sea routes in the world leads through the strait. “A tenth of global trade passes through here every day. The country serves as a refueling and transshipment center and is the gateway to the Suez Canal,” explains Czech Jakub Shelby, who works for the United Nations in Djibouti.
In addition, conflict has been raging in the area in recent weeks: the Americans and British are shelling Yemen to prevent Houthi rebels there from attacking cargo ships in the Red Sea. The Houthis threaten to stop disrupting shipping until Israel ends the war in the Gaza Strip. The tense situation has an economic impact on the whole world. “The Houthis have not yet been deterred from further attacks. The Iranian-backed militant group remains defiant and the region teeters on the brink of a wider war,” Shelby describes.
Djibouti is an attractive partner due to its stable arrangement in an otherwise politically turbulent and volatile region. And also because of its proximity to very risky countries in Africa and the Middle East: Neighboring Somalia is a source of conflict due to pirates and terrorists from the al-Shabaab movement, and Yemen has been plagued by a confusing civil war for years. This is also why world powers are setting up bases in Djibouti. The United States, France, Japan, Italy or China have soldiers here.
Jakub Shelby works for the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which is part of the United Nations. He is dedicated to another area that makes Djibouti a country of world importance – migration. Three main migration routes cross the African continent. “The northern one leads from sub-Saharan Africa to Libya and then to Europe. The southern one is where people migrate from East Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region to South Africa. And then there is the eastern route, which is mainly used by Ethiopians who go through Djibouti , Yemen and are looking for a better life in the Arabian Peninsula,” Shelby calculates.
According to him, migration flows are largely caused by economic factors, to a lesser extent by conflicts, violence and climate. A network of money-changers is also making a living from it. Refugees are often uninformed. According to Shelby, many of them do not know that there is a sea between Djibouti and Yemen, or that there is a war raging in Yemen.
Many migrants are held for ransom and become victims of violence, including sexual violence. Djibouti also experiences extreme climatic conditions and the region is particularly vulnerable to climate change and associated drought.
To give you an idea: the capital of Djibouti is one of the warmest inhabited places on Earth with an average annual temperature of 28.5 degrees. “In the summer, the heat is really extreme, reaching up to 50 degrees. Desert storms also occur in the desert. And in this climate, the poorest and therefore the most vulnerable pass through the Djibouti desert,” says Jakub Shelby.
Most of the country is very dry with less than 500 millimeters of rainfall per year. This of course has a huge impact on the livelihood of people in Djibouti. Although more than two-thirds of the population are employed in agriculture, its production provides only about a quarter of domestic consumption due to unfavorable conditions. Pastures occupy less than a tenth of the land. Migrants often get lost in the difficult terrain here and die of dehydration and exhaustion.
So what might the story of a typical person trying to get from Africa to Saudi Arabia look like? “It happens mainly because these people have no other option. Extreme poverty, conflicts or inspiration, the success of friends or family members who got to Saudi Arabia, bought a car, built a house, managed to lift the family out of poverty, are factors here for migration,” recounts Shelby.
There are also those who allow themselves to be lured and deceived by the “recruiters” who work for the traffickers. They lure them to a good life in Saudi Arabia or a free trip. “It should be remembered that a person makes this decision without being aware of all the pitfalls and dangers that await him on the way and that irregular migration brings with him,” he adds.
According to a Czech UN worker, the journey is usually organized by unscrupulous smugglers who convince migrants that the journey to the Arabian Peninsula is easy. That this is not the case, the refugees realize too late. Under the pressure of the traffickers who force them to continue, it is then difficult to take back their decision.
That is why the IOM office where Shelby works in Djibouti cooperates with the government and the international community. He himself works as a project manager and coordinates activities in the field. “I want to thank the Djiboutians. They live in extremely difficult conditions in a country they share with many very vulnerable and poor people who have come or are on their way to a better life,” he says.
He considers the country to be very harsh, the climatic conditions here are really extreme for more than half of the year and, for example, the possibility of spending free time here is very limited. “Despite all this, Djiboutians are open to help and share what little they have with people who have come to their country or are on their way to the Arabian Peninsula. I always think about how well we are doing in Europe and how I wish , so that we can appreciate what we have more,” he says.
Video: Yemeni rebels attack ships at the Gate of Wailing
Yemenis attack ships at the Gate of Wailing | Video: Reuters