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Djibouti Arrests Hundreds of Illegal Immigrants - 2003-09-16

Police and soldiers rounded up and arrested hundreds of illegal immigrants in Djibouti, a day after the government deadline for their voluntary departure expired.

Hundreds of Somalis, Ethiopians, and other immigrants were arrested when they were unable to produce identity papers.

A police captain told the French news agency, AFP, the illegal immigrants would be taken to transit camps, where they would then be escorted to the borders of their countries of origin.

Another media report indicated some immigrants were taken to a refugee camp, where their applications for asylum would be considered.

A deadline set by the government of Djibouti for illegal immigrants to leave the country expired Monday. Several-weeks before, the government announced that an estimated 100,000 aliens without proper documentation would have to leave the Horn of Africa country, saying Djibouti is too small to accommodate them all.

The France-based International Federation of Human Rights Leagues charges that the United States government is behind the expulsions. Program officer Marceau Sivieude told VOA that, according to a member organization called the Djibouti Human Rights League, the Djibouti government is acting under U.S. pressure.

"The decision of the government to expel the illegal immigrants from Djibouti was definitely taken under pressure of the American administration, which feared that some terrorist attacks might come in Djibouti," he said. "This decision to expel collectively people from Djibouti is also a violation of human rights."

But a spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Djibouti, Chase Beamer, earlier told VOA that the U.S. government did not influence the Djibouti government to expel the illegal immigrants.

"The United States government is concerned with the public perception and the misrepresentation by certain media that it has played a role in the Djiboutian government's current deportation policy," said Mr. Beamer. "The United States has played no role in the formation of Djiboutian government's current policy."

He says the U.S. government is concerned about reports of human-rights violations during the exercise, and says status determinations and deportations must be carried out according to internationally recognized human rights.

Up to 80,000 people reportedly left Djibouti voluntarily before the crackdown.