The country’s interior minister said on Saturday that as many as 70,000 clandestine immigrants have already left. Djibouti has a population of about 630,000.

“We congratulate these people who have voluntarily and massively responded to the appeal," Interior Minister Abd al-Kader Doualeh Wais said at a press conference, according to AFP.

Djibouti is of great strategic importance because of its location at the mouth of the Red Sea. Both the US and France have bases in the country and the expulsion of immigrants is believed to have been prompted by a US warning that the country could be targeted by “terrorist groups.”

US pressure

Local government officials, who declined to be identified, said the move resulted from US pressure. Washington had vigorously denied it had anything to do with the operation, AFP reported.

There are about 2800 French and 1500 US troops stationed in the country, which faces the Arabian peninsula.

Between 6000 and 8000 immigrants who hope to be granted asylum have been moved to a refugee camp about 100 km from the capital.

Some of them say they hold papers to prove they are registered asylum seekers, while others are hopeful that the very fact they are from southern Somalia will mean the government will grant them permission to stay.

The US has said Somalia is a breeding ground for "terrorists."