Somaliland can’t catch a break. Its arranged marriage to Somalia fell apart more than a quarter century ago, yet the world refuses to recognize the divorce.
Now Somalilanders find themselves temporarily barred from the United States under President Trump’s new travel ban, and they’re not happy about it.
“Somaliland should not be mixed with Somalia. We are two different states,” says Saad Ali Shire, the foreign minister of the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland.
Somalia is a hotbed of terrorist activity, particularly for the extremist Islamist group al-Shabaab. The U.S. State Department strongly warns American citizens against visiting any part of Somalia — and Somaliland as well — saying they face a serious threat of kidnapping. Things have gotten so bad in parts of Somalia that Washington also has banned U.S. planes from entering Somali airspace and urges Americans to avoid sailing “near the coast of Somalia due to the risk of pirate attacks.”
“Somaliland is a separate country,” Shire protests. “We don’t have the troubles and problems with terrorism and extremism that they have in Somalia.”
Then again, it is understandable that Somaliland and Somalia are linked.
Up until 1960, Somaliland was a British protectorate known as British Somaliland. When it won independence from the U.K., Somaliland merged with the former Italian colony, Italian Somaliland, to form the Somali Republic.
In a region sharply divided by clan rivalries, it was never a great union. In 1991, Somaliland declared itself an independent nation — although it has never been formally recognized by the U.N. (or the U.S.), in part because Somalia refuses to accept the breakup.
After the split, Somalia, with Mogadishu as its capital, disintegrated into chaos and became the global poster child for a failed state. From 1991 to 2012 there was no functioning central government. Mogadishu became one of the most dangerous cities on Earth.
The world isn’t entirely convinced that the breakaway province of Somaliland to the north is a bastion of peace and stability. The British government strongly urges Brits not to go there. The Foreign Office warning says there is a “high threat to Western, including British, interests from terrorism in Somalia, including Somaliland.”
But that same warning goes on to state that there’ve been no major terrorist attacks in Somaliland since 2008. The CIA Fact Book entry from Somalia also describes Somaliland as a territory that’s valiantly trying to function normally: “Although not recognized by any government, this entity has maintained a stable existence and continues efforts to establish a constitutional democracy, including holding municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections.”
The Somaliland Foreign Ministry has formally asked the U.S. State Department to remove Somaliland from the new travel policy, which temporarily blocks residents of six majority-Muslim countries.
“Immigration policies directed at Somalia must not be applied to our country,” Shire says.
Shire, speaking by phone from the Somaliland capital of Hargeisa, says Somaliland is being unfairly blamed for the problems of its dysfunctional neighbor.
“I think we should be judged on our own merits,” Shire says. “Have we controlled terrorism? Have we controlled our borders? I think the answer is all yes. Do we pose a risk? No.”
But for at least the next 90 days, no Somalilander can be issued a new visa to enter the United States.