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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September, 2003, 13:44 GMT 14:44 UK
In hiding in Djibouti
Jonah Fisher
BBC, Djibouti

The small East African state of Djibouti is expelling its illegal immigrants - who now make up around 15% of the population - for fear they are taking all the jobs and causing crime. One man explains why he has stayed.

(left) Sharif
Sharif (left) is just one of many who have chosen to stay
Sharif Mohammed has not seen his wife and two children back in Somaliland for five years.

Every month he tries to send them $25 from the small amounts he makes trading on the streets of Djibouti Town. Today he is selling socks and razors - each costing less than a dollar.

But this is no normal working week for Sharif. The deadline for all illegal immigrants to leave Djibouti town passed on Monday night and since then the army have been rounding up all those without the right papers.

"I used to work all day in the streets," he said, "but now I'm so worried I just do a little bit here and there. All the time I'm looking around in case someone is coming up to check on me."

Sharif sleeps in Quartier 4, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Djibouti Town.

He used to share his room with four other illegal immigrants - but three of them were among the 80,000 thought to have left before the deadline.

Big depot

"The others who left could afford to pay to go home," he said. "Those of us who are left - we're the poorest who don't have the money.

"I'm terrified that someone else will point me out to the police or tell them where I am. I don't want to be put in prison and then in a big depot with lots of other people."

If Sharif gets caught he will be deported straight back to Somaliland.

If that happens he says he won't try and return to Djibouti and instead will try and resume his old life back with his wife in Hargeisa.

"I won't be able to come back if I get sent out of the country," he said.

"The security is just too tight and the military will be watching out along the border. For me if I get caught I lose the things I'm selling and return home."

Some 15% of Djibouti's population was thought to be made up of illegal immigrants before this crackdown was introduced.

No-one knows exactly how many have chosen, like Sharif, to stay.

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