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Kenya: Refugee Crackdown "Counter-productive"

AfricaFocus Bulletin
May 19, 2014 (140519)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"Harassment and forced repatriation [of Somali refugees in Kenya] is likely to incite acute hatred against Kenya and entice more youth to join the Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group. This strategy is counterproductive. The government's decision to take this route has provoked anger. Somalis, whether from Kenya or from Somalia, and the Muslim community have suffered brutal police actions. This suits Al-Shabaab propaganda and alienates a community that can help fight terrorism," Nuur Sheikh, expert on conflict in Horn of Africa, in interview with Inter Press Service.

Since the beginning of April, Kenyan authorities have been implementing a crackdown on Somali refugees in Kenyan urban areas, a response to the threat of repeated terror attacks including bombings in the capital Nairobi. But the strategy, involving roundups including Kenyan citizens of Somali origin, transfers to the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, and deportations to Somalia, show little sign of curbing the threat. Criticized by domestic and international human rights groups for abuses and indiscriminately targeting entire communities, the strategy seems to be proving not only ineffective but counter-productive.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the most recent report on the topic from Human Rights Watch, as well as a late April report from Inter Press Service.

Additional recent articles include:

Amnesty International, "No Place like Home: Returns and relocations of Somalia's displaced," 19 February 2014.

"Kenya's anti-terror strategy begins to emerge," Ben Rawlence, April 9, 2014 / direct URL:

UN High Commission on Refugees, "UNHCR disturbed by arrests and deportations of Somali refugees," Press Release, 17 April 2014

"Cracking down on Nairobi's Somalis: Al Jazeera investigation uncovers allegations of beatings and rape in Kenya's ongoing antiterrorism operation," Al Jazeera, April 22, 2014

"'You are All Terrorists': Kenyan Police Abuse of Refugees in Nairobi,"
May 29, 2013

"Refugees in Kenya are being forced back to war-torn Somalia," By Raven Rakia, Apr 30, 2014

Katy Migiro, "Babies left behind as parents sent to camps in Kenya mass arrests, "Thomson Reuters Foundation, 12 May 2014

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Somalia, visit

On Somali refugees in Kenya, see particularly

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on migration, including refugees, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Kenya: End Abusive Round-Ups

Detainees Describe Mistreatment, Lack of Access to UN Agency

May 12, 2014

Human Rights Watch

(Nairobi) - Kenyan authorities should immediately end ongoing harassment, arbitrary detentions, forced relocations to refugee camps, and summary deportations in a round-up operation that has affected both foreigners and Kenyan citizens.

The government should also give the UN refugee agency full access to all detainees to identify registered refugees, asylum seekers, and anyone seeking protection, regardless of when they came to Kenya.

The round-up operation, which began on April 1, 2014, has been riddled with abuses, Human Rights Watch found. Government security forces have raided homes, buildings, and shops; looted cell phones, money, and other goods; harassed and extorted residents; and detained thousands - including journalists, Kenyan citizens, and international aid workers - without charge and in appalling conditions for periods well beyond the 24-hour limit set by Kenyan law.

"Kenyan police and security forces are using abusive and discriminatory tactics in the name of national security, targeting entire communities," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "This crackdown clearly violates basic rights of Kenyans, refugees, and other foreign nationals and does nothing to improve security."

Human Rights Watch interviewed 21 refugees who had been detained at various police stations in Nairobi, including Pangani, Shauri Moyo, Kamukunji, Kasarani, and Gigiri stations.

Operation Usalama Watch began following grenade and gun attacks in Mombasa and Nairobi by unknown perpetrators on March 23 and March 31 that killed 12 and injured at least eight. On April 5, Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku announced that 6,000 police had deployed to Nairobi's Eastleigh neighborhood to arrest foreign nationals who were in the country unlawfully and anyone suspected of terroristlinks.

The operation has particularly affected Somalis, ethnic Somali Kenyans, Ethiopians, South Sudanese, and Kenyan Muslim populations in Nairobi's Eastleigh and "South C" neighborhoods, Mombasa's Likoni area, and in other towns in central Kenya and the coast region.

Authorities have detained thousands of people in police stations without charge. On April 9 Lenku announced that almost 4,000 had been arrested and since then arrests and releases have continued, with many people transferred between places of detention. Some have been held for more than three weeks, Human Rights Watch found.

On March 26 Lenku announced that all urban refugees should be relocated to Kenya's refugee camps. The move is in clear breach of a 2013 High Court order quashing the authorities' previous attempt to move people into camps. Kenyan lawyers have challenged the latest order.

Witnesses have described that security forces have routinely confiscated or destroyed documentation, and frequently extorted large sums of money in exchange for release. Residents of Eastleigh told Human Rights Watch they paid between KES500 to 5,000 (USD$5.88 to $8.80) to avoid being detained, or up to KES40,000 ($470) to secure their release. Police have confiscated both expired and valid UN refugee documents, and in some cases have torn them up.

Some refugees moved from Nairobi to the remote refugee camps as the only way to avoid paying bribes to stay out of detention. A 25-yearold Somali refugee told Human Rights Watch in the Dadaab camp that he relocated there after his relatives paid KES35,000 ($408) for his release from the Pangani police station and police confiscated his Kenyan government-issued "alien certificate." "I came as I didn't have any more money to pay bribes if they came again," he said. "I have no options."

Human Rights Watch saw detainees being whipped at the Pangani station, and former detainees said police kicked, beat, pushed, and threatened to shoot or deport them during the raids and arrests.

At least two people have died during round-ups. On April 13, a 6- month-old baby girl died in her crib three days after police arrested her mother, a registered refugee, and refused to allow her to bring her baby to the police station, leaving the baby alone, according to neighbors. Local media also reported that a pregnant woman died after police officers pushed her off a police truck during a round-up.

Detainees described unsanitary conditions and complained of insufficient food. Many said they would go for days without food. At the Pangani police station, they said, only relatives who could bribe police officers with KES100 ($1.16) were able to get food to detainees in the cells.

"The cells were full beyond capacity," a former detainee told Human Rights Watch. "We sat on each other inside, or else one had to stand straight to fit. The toilets next to the cells were overflowing and human waste would flow back to the cells where we were. No one could go to the toilets, so we helped ourselves on the floor inside the cells and then we all ended up trampling on it."

In the operation in Nairobi, detainees said they were typically held until authorities at the Kasarani stadium screened them to establish whether they are lawfully present in Kenya, in what appears to be a slow and nontransparent process. After screening, detainees are either charged with unlawful presence, deported, released, or ordered to relocate to refugee camps.

"People are languishing in dirty, cramped cells, without being brought before a magistrate, as required by law," Bekele said. "The authorities should release or charge these people and ensure basic standards of care while they are in detention."

Two weeks after the screening began, Lenku announced that just 1,136 had been screened, of whom 225 would be deported and 412 relocated to camps. On April 22, he announced that 313 would be tried on immigration charges. It is not clear how authorities are deciding whom to deport without charges and whom to charge, Human Rights Watch said.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says the Kenyan authorities have denied UNHCR access to detainees in police cells, at the Kasarani stadium, and at the airport to identify registered refugees and asylum seekers or people who wish to claim asylum because they fear serious harm in Somalia.

"The Kenyan authorities appear to be making decisions that violate detainees' due process rights and that risk unlawfully returning large numbers of Somalis to their country," Bekele said. "They should immediately allow UNHCR access to all detention facilities, including the stadium where people's residence status is being verified."

Since mid-April, hundreds of refugees have relocated from urban areas to the overcrowded Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. Many have never before lived in the camps. In some cases parents were forcibly separated from their children, who remain in the cities.

Yusuf, a 20-year-old refugee registered in Nairobi, relocated to Dadaab after he was arrested at his home in early April, spent six days in Pangani and Kasarani stadium, and was only released after his uncle paid KES9,000 ($105) to a policeman at Kasarani. He told Human Rights Watch shortly after his arrival in Dadaab: "This is when I came to the camp, the government was saying all refugees should come to the camps. I don't have close relatives here. But there are problems in Somalia so I can't go there either."

The urban refugee relocations to camps appear to violate Kenyan law. A July 2013 ruling by Kenya's High Court concluded that a December 2012 plan to relocate urban refugees to camps violated refugees' rights and dignity.

Since April 9, 2014, authorities have also deported 261 peoples by air to Mogadishu: 83 on April 9, 91 on April 17, and 87 on May 3. UNHCR was not given access to the deportees at Nairobi's international airport before they were removed from Kenya.

Mariam, a 32-year-old registered refugee who was arrested while visiting Nairobi, was among the 83 people deported on April 9 after Kenyan authorities refused to accept her refugee status document. Her children, ages 5, 10, and 15, are living in Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp with her elderly father. "I hope the government of Kenya will let me go back to my family," she told Human Rights Watch in Mogadishu. "The only home I have is that refugee camp."

In another case, two children, ages 16 and 14, who had been bornand brought up in Kenya, were separated from their family and deported on April 9, despite holding refugee and school identity documents.

Kenya should stop summarily deporting Somali nationals, which risks violating its obligations under Kenyan and international law not to return anyone to situations of persecution or generalized violence. Any undocumented individuals should be given the opportunity to lodge asylum claims and UNHCR should be given access to detainees to identify such people, Human Rights Watch said.

Forcibly returning someone to a threat of persecution or to a place where a person would be at real risk of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment is refoulement and is prohibited under international law.

UNHCR has called Somalia "a very dangerous place," and said no Somali should be forcibly returned there unless assured that they would not risk persecution.

UNHCR's role in identifying registered refugees and asylum seekers and those who want to claim asylum is all the more important after Kenya suspended all services to urban refugees, and stopped registering new asylum seekers in the cities in December 2012, Human Rights Watch said. The move followed suspension of all refugee registration in refugee camps in October 2011.

Kenyan authorities are carrying out collective punishment under the guise of fighting terrorism," Bekele said. "This abusive operation violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of Kenyans and nonKenyans alike, and risks making the country more divided and insecure."

Kenya's Nationwide Clampdown On Islamic Extremism 'Counterproductive'

by Noor Ali, 29 April 2014

Inter Press Service

Nairobi — Kenya's government was warned by Muslim clerics about the radicalisation and recruitment of youths by Al-Shabaab six years ago but did not take action, says Sheikh Ahmed, a management committee member of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya.

The state, he told IPS, dismissed the reports as a rift between Muslim clerics and failed to arrest senior preachers who openly give sermons calling on youths to fight believers of other religions and attack places of worship.

"At the beginning it was our problem but not now. This group [of extremists] has taken over the management of mosques. In Mombasa, the police are helping us repossess two mosques seized by the radical agents of violence," said Ahmed.

On Wednesday Apr. 23, four people, including two policemen, died in a terror attack on Kenya when bombers drove a vehicle into a police station in the capital, Nairobi.

It was the latest in a spate of terror attacks in this East African nation. Last September, Kenya experienced the worst terror attack in years when gunmen from the Somali extremist group, Al-Shabaab, attacked the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, killing at least 67 people.

But the Apr. 23 attack was seen as retaliation against the ongoing countrywide crackdown on illegal immigrants and refugees suspected of being affiliated with Al-Shabaab.

Nuur Sheikh, an expert on conflict in the Horn of Africa, believes harassment and forced repatriation is likely to incite acute hatred against Kenya and entice more youth to join the Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group.

"This operation strategy is counter-productive. The government's decision to take this route has provoked anger. Somalis, whether from Kenya or from Somalia, and the Muslim community have suffered brutal police actions.

"This suits Al-Shabaab propaganda and alienates a community that can help fight terrorism," Sheikh said in a phone interview with IPS.

Tensions have flared between Kenya and Somalia after Kenyan police arrested a Somali diplomat on Friday, Apr. 25. Somalia's Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed said in a statement that his government was concerned about the arrest of law-abiding Somalis. Somalia has reportedly recalled its ambassador to Kenya.

According to local reports, police have arrested more than 4,000 Somalis and deported some 200 illegal immigrants. On Apr. 9 the first group of arrestees, consisting of 82 Somalis without legal refugee status, were deported. Last week, 91 more Somalis without valid documents were repatriated.

Executive director of the Muslim for Human Rights Forum, Al-Amin Kimathi, told IPS that the current operation was discriminatory and punished communities who have suffered the brunt of Al-Shabaab's terrorism. He said it disrupted livelihoods, instilled fear and demonised the Somali and Muslim communities.

Police spokesperson Masood Mwinyi denied this.

"Its wrong and misleading to suggest only one community or one religious group is being targeted, we have also arrested Pakistani, Chinese and Indians and other illegal aliens from neighbouring states," Mwinyi told IPS.

Ahmed Mohamed, secretary general of the Eastleigh business community, told IPS more than 75 percent of major businesses selling textiles, electronics, money transactions, restaurants and guest houses have been closed. The operation is mostly focused on Nairobi's Eastleigh suburb, where a large population of Somalis reside.

An official from the Ethiopia Ogaden Refugees Association said on condition of anonymity that 14 people from Ogaden region in Ethiopia have been deported.

They all requested deportation to Somalia and not Ethiopia. Since the 1991 fall from power of Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, Ogaden National Liberation Front intellectuals have fought for an independent state there and tensions remain between the Ogaden and Ethiopia.

"We must be exempted, our case, our status is different. We are Somalis but from Ethiopia. Any Ogaden deported to Ethiopia will be killed. No doubt, repatriating our people to a foreign country is terrible, wrong," he said in an interview with IPS.

An Ethiopian who escaped his country after a series of arrests and threats on his life vowed he would never return home or to the camps of Somali refugees.

"We have suffered, we have been harassed here by police, the camps are not safe for us either. We are always threatened because Ethiopia's troops are in Somalia and they are blamed for killing innocent Somalis," he told IPS on the condition of anonymity.

The Kenya National Human Rights commission said the government acts constituted a serious violation of the constitution and of international human rights standards. Commissioner Suzanne Chivusia said in a statement that hundreds of detainees have been held under inhuman and deplorable conditions and with limited access to basic provision like food, water and sanitation.

Mwinyi called on civilians with claims of human rights violations by the police force to record their cases with the police.

"We are ready, looking forward to receive and investigate and punish any officer who will be implicated in any illegal act in the operation," he said.

Independent Police Oversight Authority chairman Macharia Njeru said in a statement that the body has launched investigations over claims of illegal detentions, ethnic profiling and the holding of suspects incommunicado.

Meanwhile, the association of Muslims Organisation in Kenya chairperson, Fazul Mohamed, told IPS that his organisation would pursue an ideological approach to counter misleading interpretations of the Koran by clerics allied to terrorists.

He said the organisation has enlisted a strong team of clerics, scholars, politicians and experts to do this. He called it a genuine Jihad or religious war against a section of religious leaders who are undermining Islam and posing a threat to national cohesion.

"We have set the stage for a radical, multifaceted approach that explores all avenues of countering the radicalisation of youths in Kenya, including community policing and rehabilitation of youths who deserted the group or are willing to abandon Al-Shabaab," Mohamed told IPS.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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