Somaliland: IOM Initiates Internship Program to Stem Brain Drain


Going against the drain: migration and youth unemployment in SomalilandIOM Somalilands new internship programme aims to tackle the outward migration of its young graduates

Somalilandsun: In Somaliland 75% of young people are jobless and migration is high. Daihei Mochizuki, from IOM Somalia tells us why effective policies must see both issues as interrelated

IOM Somaliland’s new internship programme aims to tackle the outward migration of its young graduates. Photograph: Antonio Olmos/ Antonio Olmos

Somaliland is actually one of three governments (Somaliland, Puntland and the federal government of Somalia) the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) serves in this region. Despite the known challenges and insecurity in the region, our work in Somaliland focuses developmental assistance on irregular migration and youth unemployment.

There is good reason for this: according to Somaliland’s National Development Programme, youth unemployment stands at 75%, much higher than Somalia’s national average. Somaliland’s relative stability attracts youths from all over Somalia – despite there being few opportunities for formal employment.

To be able to design suitable programmes, we’ve first had to find out who makes up this 75%. The figure comes from an assessment made by Somaliland National Youth Organization (Sonya) in which they interviewed 800 youths between the ages of 15 and 30: their sample included rural and urban youths, male and females and students and non-students.

But the main concern raised repeatedly by the government of Somaliland is not the influx of young people into Somaliland but the the outward migration of its young graduates. Educated youth can, and should, play a key role in all aspects of Somaliland’s social and economic development, so a ‘brain drain’ of these populations will inevitably affect the country’s development. This is why any work done to address youth unemployment is part of a broader mission to reduce the negative impact of irregular migration.

The first project with this dual objective is our new internship programme aimed at providing employment opportunities for young graduates. We select students for the seven-month programme based on the strength of their grades and place them in challenging, paid internship assignments with Somaliland local and regional authorities as well as private companies. During these assignments they undergo soft skills training in leadership, organisational development, entrepeneurship, and project and financial management.

The programme is for 40 students, and though small in scale, we hope these students will open new opportunities for future university graduates if they manage to progress in local institutions and private companies. We are also encouraging these companies and authorities to recognise the potential of local human resources and to reach out to these young people. While the project may not decrease the youth unemployment rate immediately, it will certainly contribute towards reducing the brain drain.

To support this initiative we are also linking with our Migration for Development in Africa (Mida) programme which addresses the shortage of qualified professionals by placing experts from the Somali diaspora into government institutions. Mida has been working closely with most of the ministries in Somaliland including those in charge of developing policies related to youth. MIDA will soon be linked with the youth unemployment programme by placing experts in the institutions that are hosting our interns. They will not only transfer technical knowledge and skills to the institutions but also act as mentors.

Still, as we work hard to integrate what we do to other relevant programmes, we acknowledge that youth unemployment cannot, and should not, be addressed by one agency and as a specific issue of one country. Co-operation is key to solving the problem and this is why we have worked with governmental actors, universities and youth organisations in Somaliland such as Sonyo. We are also signing a co-operation agreement with the ILO Somalia in areas where the expertise of our two organisations match, such as policies for youth unemployment.

I also believe that youth unemployment policies should not be designed and implemented in isolation, but instead form part of the comprehensive effort to promote economic development in a country. Without overall economic development of Somaliland under appropriate policies, youth employment will not be created. Economic development requires strong governance as well as private sector development. The collaboration with ILO is one initiative to link IOM’s activities to its broader objectives in Somaliland.

When tackling youth unemployment in my role as livelihoods manager over the past year, I have learned we must also think outside of our given geographical boundaries. Considering the mobility of Somali people, even if Somaliland’s economy improves, youths will continue to migrate for better opportunities elsewhere (within Somalia, neighbouring countries, and to Europe). Apart from addressing regional irregular migration through awareness raising and building migration management capacity of countries in the region, the IOM should also be facilitating the formalisation of labour migration agreements between these countries. Labour migration will not only create formal employment opportunities, but also enhance skill transfer within the region.

While I remain hopeful for the situation of Somaliland’s youth, we still have a long way to go. Somaliland’s government is committed to addressing the issue of youth unemployment but still needs support technically and financially to appropriately tackle what is a huge problem. There are initiatives that the government can take forward which I think would help the issue of youth employment. This will include actively involving the private sector on economic and industrial policy development and linking the private sector with education institutions to develop a curriculum that satisfactorily reflects the demands of the market.

Daihei Mochizuki is the programme manager of IOM Somalia’s livelihoods unit.