A Somalian Solution to the Perilous Exodus

MOGADISHU, Somalia — We were sitting in a crammed cafe in the sweltering heat of a Mogadishu afternoon. The mishmash of conversation, clinking plates and loud horns from the street outside forced us to speak loudly across our plates of rice. A 22-year-old man I will call Liban, to protect his identity, sat across from me. Gangly and bursting with frenetic energy, he was telling me of his plans to cross the Mediterranean Sea to enter Italy illegally.

The topic came up casually during a conversation about a youth entrepreneurship summit I was organizing that week. He told me about a friend who introduced him to a fixer last year, who then connected him with a smuggler. He said his next step was to get together the last portion of the $4,000 that he would pay for his journey.

He pulled out a notebook and drew me a map. The plan was straightforward: He would cross the Ethiopia-Somalia border and meet with smugglers in Ethiopia. They would take him across the porous Ethiopian border with Sudan and on to Khartoum. From there, he would begin his journey into Libya. In Tripoli, he would board a boat and cross the Mediterranean to the Italian island of Lampedusa.