Nearly 36,000 refugees and asylum seekers lived in Djibouti at year's end, including nearly 22,000 from Somalia and more than 1,000 from Ethiopia, and about 13,000 asylum seekers. Thousands of undocumented and uncounted asylum seekers from various African countries resided in urban areas.

2003 Events

The majority of refugees who remained in Djibouti at the end of 2003 originated from northern Somalia, the self-declared independent territory of "Somaliland." Most resided in two remote camps near Djibouti's borders with Somalia and Ethiopia. More than 10,000 lived in Ali Adde camp and nearly 10,000 in Holl Holl camp. Some 8,000 asylum seekers remained in Aour Aoussa transit center at year's end.

In mid 2003, the Djibouti Ministry of Interior ordered all illegal immigrants to voluntarily leave the country by September or risk deportation, sending panic through Djibouti's sizable immigrant community. An estimated 100,000 immigrants, mostly Somalis, Ethiopians, and Yemenis, heeded the government warning and left the country by year's end.

Unwilling to leave, thousands of immigrants registered with Djibouti authorities as asylum seekers in an attempt to legalize their stay and remain in the country. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reopened Aour Aoussa, a former refugee camp, to register and accommodate the asylum seekers as they waited the government's decision. UNHCR planned to transfer the refugees from Aour Aoussa transit center to Holl Holl refugee camp.

Some 15,000 Somali refugees registered with UNHCR to repatriate to Somaliland, but fewer than 300 actually did so. UNHCR provided returnee families with water containers, basic kitchen essentials, blankets, and plastic sheeting. Returnees also received a nine-month food supply from the World Food Programme (WFP).


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