SOMALIA: Kenya Security Forces Harassing Somali Refugees

Monday, July 26, 2010
New American
Eastern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Human Rights

Kenyan forces at the Somali border and in nearby refugee camps are abusing asylum seekers and refugees fleeing war-torn Somalia. Kenya tightened security along its border with Somalia in February in anticipation of a government offensive against Al-Shabbab and other anti-government groups, which has yet to occur. There were fears that Somali fighters might enter Kenya if attacked at home.

With the widespread threat of interception of refugees by abusive forces, most asylum seekers travel on small paths away from the main road between the border and the refugee camps, where common criminals (often described by asylum seekers as "men not wearing uniform") also prey upon them, raping women and stealing the little they have.

"People fleeing the mayhem in Somalia, the vast majority women and children, are welcomed to Kenya with rape, whippings, beatings, detention, extortion, and summary deportation," said Gerry Simpson, a refugee researcher for Human Rights Watch.

About half of all Somalis fleeing to Kenya register in the world's largest refugee settlement, made up of three overcrowded refugee camps near the town of Dadaab in north-east Kenya, now hosting almost 300,000 people.

The other half make their way to Nairobi, Kenya's capital, where very few are able to register as refugees owing to the limited capacity of the government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The New American interviewed three Somalis who fled the terror in their homeland:

“Nairobi-Eastleight is just like Mogadishu (Somali Capital); but the only difference is that there is no security. Rather than settle in overflowing refugee's camp along the Kenya-Somali boarder and depend on food agencies and handouts, I choose to live independently like other Kenyan people,” said Abdullahi Warsame. A 19-year-old who lost his brother and mother in the war back in his previous land.

Another immigrant is Rahma Mohamed who says “life here is normal compared to previous days. Obviously I can't be like other Kenyans who have freedom but the only things I require is peace and stability at the moment.”

Rahma underwent many challenges through her journey from Somalia to Kenya, a journey that she never wishes to remember. Kenyan security forces detained her for at least two weeks. “All my family are in Mogadishu, I know right now they are full of doubt, I am here with my elder brother who has a wife and 6 kids, I don't have a stable job to do right now but am in search for better job so that I can help my family who are struggling away back in Somalia,” she added.

This year began with some of the worst and deadliest fighting in Somalia since early 2009. Somalia has been without a functioning government since the civil war in 1991 after Mogadishu warlords toppled Siad Bare's regime, leading to millions of deaths and the highest number of both internally and externally displaced persons anywhere on the globe.

In June, nine Somali migrants drowned off the north-eastern coast of Mozambique while fleeing violence and poverty in their homeland.

The nine people were part of a larger group of 77 Somalis trying to reach Mozambique by boat, 41 of whom were forced into the water by the smugglers. “Some people were rescued by fishermen while 36 others who refused to leave the boat were eventually taken to [the town of] Palma,” said Melissa Fleming, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. "They used to be taking a very cumbersome route by road through Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and then into South Africa. And, it seems now, perhaps because of crackdowns in Malawi, that they have decided or that the smugglers have chosen this (sea) route," Fleming added.

Also in end of May, five unconscious Somalis were found on Minicoy Island in Lakshadweep, India, after swimming ashore from their boat. All five have been arrested.

People from Somalia are trying to flee the violence, using the increasingly popular, but dangerous, sea route despite the risk.

Kenya currently confines refugees to camps, barring them from movement, in contravention of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Nairobi however registered thousands as urban refugee.

Security forces in the border areas allow intercepted asylum seekers to pay their way through checkpoints to reach the camps.

Women and girls describe an utterly inadequate police response to sexual violence. Many women say that alleged attackers have successfully bribed the police to prevent investigations from taking place or to secure their release if arrested.

“In March, that was the worst month in my life, I fled with my two kids from the war so that I have peace, but through my journey, I can't explain what happen to me in front of my kids,” 34 year old Aisha Ahmed told The New American. “But whatever happened it happen for a reasons, now the only things I want is peace and stability. I always pray to my fellow brothers and sisters to stop fighting and to see white flag waving in my country [Somalia].”

Somalia already has 1.4 million internally displaced people, and about 575,000 have fled to neighboring countries. In 2009, Somalis were the third-largest group seeking asylum in industrialized countries, with more than 22,000 claims, after Iraq and Pakistan, according to figures from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.