Refugees Strike Back at Armed Attackers
Volume 1, Issue 3 / February 2009
Refugee community guard named a hero after fending off armed attackers with bow and arrow, highlighting the need for community-based security systems
With security still uncertain in Kakuma Camp, refugees are not taking any chances. Communities have devised autonomous security systems to ensure the safety of their neighborhoods against armed attack. On New Year’s Eve, one refugee community saw that system called into action by a surprise attack on their compound.
Community watch groups
Though UNHCR is mandated to protect refugees, the Kenyan Government is responsible for enforcing security. The bodies work on joint measures to reduce insecurity in the camp. UNHCR has donated patrol vehicles to the Kenyan police. According to a senior police officer, the UNHCR also provides police fuel and communications equipment.
The Kenyan Police are sometimes overwhelmed by the scale of their task. The size of the camp and its rising population make policing a difficult task.
The situation has improved with the deployment of paramilitary police known as GSU (General Services Unit) in mid-2008, but armed robbers still strike with ease. A startling feature of armed robbers is their ability to strike at any moment or anywhere, particularly at night.
This causes refugees to live in perpetual fear, and communities are not taking their security for granted. Groups of neighbours enclose their housing compounds with thorny security fences to prevent unwanted entry. Communities have also devised precautionary measures to curb attacks by armed robbers.
The Equatorian Community from Southern Sudan is especially concerned about safety. They have their own voluntary security guards who patrol strategic positions in shifts throughout the night. Guards are armed with bows and arrows, with whistles to alert community members in case of emergency. Incidents are reported via walkie-talkie or cell phone to the community chairman, who in turn reports to the police or LWF security.
Community security guard becomes hero
“Salva” (not his real name) has lived in Kakuma Camp for more than a decade since fleeing his home in Sudan.
During his childhood, Salva learned how to use a bow and arrow. He would practice the traditional weapon with friends and eventually became a sharpshooter. As he grew, he would venture into the nearby bushes to hunt antelopes, rabbits, and gazelle. He never could have predicted that this self-defense mechanism would one day be useful to him.
On 31st December 2008, Salva and his neighbor had celebrated Christmas and were planning their New Year’s Eve celebration. On that night, Salva did not sleep early. Like others in the camp, he wanted to usher in the New Year with style.
At around 2:00 a.m., Salva spotted four men breaking through his community’s fence. He could see that one of the men was armed. Salva watched as the robbers entered the house of his neighbour at the end of the compound.
He hid himself behind his house, taking cover under dark shade. There was moonlight and he could clearly see the events as they unfolded.
The bandits ordered the neighbor to lie down and two of them began looting the house. They took cash the family had saved for an entire year. With their first mission accomplished, they moved towards their next target.
Salva’s immediate neighbour was the next target. Salva knew he was next in line and sensed danger. It was too late for him to run away.
He was armed with a bow and arrows and knew he should save his neighbour. But any slight mistake would be fatal.
He could clearly see his targets. Three of the robbers were unarmed and harmless-the armed man was Salva’s obvious target.
Salva aimed carefully. He shot once but missed by a sliver, the arrow glancing off the robber’s collar. Confused and shaken, the armed robber shot in the opposite direction, not knowing the location of his assailant.
It was a moment of life or death. Salva almost ran after missing his first shot, but there was no place to run. Instead, he took another arrow and aimed at his target.
This time the armed robber was unlucky. The arrows are made in such a way as to cause maximum harm, and Salva hit the robber under the armpit. Salva breathed a sigh of relief.
The robber’s mission ended in disarray. Their robbery was foiled and their partner was bleeding profusely, crying loudly in agony. His cry was heard all over the neighborhood, and the robbers now had no other option. They ran for dear life, carrying their injured colleague with them.
Salva had had the guts and the courage to act, and this time the robbers were halted. By his act of bravery, Salva had saved his family and neighbours. Overnight he became a hero and the talk of the camp. Community leaders reported the matter to security offices and police arrived at the scene after the robbers had fled.
Police are investigating the case but have not arrested the culprits. Reliable sources have confirmed that the wounded robber later succumbed to death as a result of excessive bleeding.
When a senior police officer was asked to comment on the progress of the investigation, he declined to comment and referred KANERE to higher authorities.
The District Officer, Mr. Eric Wanyonyi, refused to comment on the matter, stating, “I cannot give any official statement to an unregistered body.” He refers to the fact that KANERE is still in the process of being registered as a community-based organization.
Not the first time, nor the last
This is not the first time that refugees have foiled a robbery attempt in their midst. In 2001, a similar incident occurred when two robbers, one of them armed, attacked a family in the camp. The armed robber was distracted and his would-be victims successfully overpowered him and seized his gun. The robbers ran helter-skelter from the scene.
The matter was reported to the police and the gun was handed over. The culprits were never apprehended.
Today Salva, his neighbours, and community leaders are worried people. They live in fear of their lives, knowing the potential for revenge on behalf of the armed robber’s injury (or possible death).
Nobody knows what will happen when bandits strike again. But next time they attack, they will need to think twice lest they are hit by an arrow man.