Refugee Free Press Situation Grims As Reporters Experience Blatant Attacks On Press Freedom and Human Rights
The Kakuma New’s Reflector’s (KANERE) daily news situation has grown increasingly tenuous since the beginning of the year. This is a dangerous sign for the refugees who wish to exercise their right to a free press and express their voices through the independent newsletter in Kakuma Refugee Camp. The safety, protection and security of KANERE journalists in the camp is jeopardized.
During the month of March 2010, KANERE reporters faced several threats and insecurity problems hindering their basic safety and halting the operations of the newsletter.
KANERE As an example, the KANERE editor was assaulted by three men well-known to him and his house was destroyed in November, 2009. During these assaults, the Editor lost valuable personal properties and documents. Despite filing several reports with Kenyan Police and bringing the case to the attention of UNHCR officials, the Editor’s case has never been taken to court. A more detailed account of this incident can be found at All Africa (http://allafrica.com/stories/201003220456.html).
On March 19th, 2010, in a closed meeting with UNHCR and LWF chief security officers, the UNHCR Head of Sub-Office and the KANERE Editor, UNHCR objected to having had any problems with KANERE or its journalists.
The UNHCR Head of Sub-Office briefed the entire situation that forced the call for the meeting and then asked the LWF chief security officer to clarify why his office was looking for the KANERE leaders. In this meeting, both UNHCR and LWF raised concerns over the presence of individual visitors coming into the camp from abroad, who might be having links with KANERE.
They made the argument that there was a visitor of Ethiopian origin in the camp during the month of the February, 2010. Official claimed that this visitor was distributing money to refugees. KANERE never knew of this visitor. It was not clear why KANERE leaders were to be summoned by LWF security officers on these grounds.
The Ethiopian Community Chairman spoke to KANERE journalists about the Ethiopian visitor who was reported in the camp by UNHCR and LWF. The Chairman stated that he was bitter about how the visitor was thrown out of the camp. He said the visitor was kind and a helper. “He was ordering and providing free food for the refugees at Franco Hotel and giving money for the Christmas holidays. But we don’t know his mission.”
The LWF security officer also pointed out that he had no problems with KANERE leaders despite the fact that he had ordered his security staffs to look for the KANERE leaders; he claimed that his security staff had taken a wrong step in causing problems for the editor and his journalists. “We don’t have any problem with KANERE. My mandate was is to investigate and clarify,” said the LWF security officer.
Although these officers’ statements appear supportive, journalists are very concerned by the procedures used to force them to attend the meeting. During the attempt to summon KANERE leaders, an LWF official told the Ethiopian chairman that there was a visitor to meet KANERE and there were concerns raised by the government and UNHCR against KANERE.
Towards the end of the meeting, the KANERE Editor called for assistance in securing his own safety and for better protection of journalists. “I request for protection and security for my life. I am afraid of this entire situation in the camp,” he said. The editor gave names of six of the perpetrators in his assault case and asked officials to prevent these refugees from creating additional problems for KANERE. He also requested that UNHCR take steps to ensure legal protection of journalists through the court of law, as the Editor’s insecurity cases have been duly filed with authorities, but were never taken up and justice delayed.
On March 29th, 2010, at about 11:00am, the Editor received a call from a former KANERE reporter. The former reporter was threatened by a Kenyan Government official at the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) in Kakuma. According to the reporter, his particulars were taken and he was warned of participating in KANERE’s reporting activities. Apparently, the DRA official warned the former reporter that unless he should stop “this business” that he and a few others were doing, then he should be prepared for anything as bad as deportation.
“He was pointing fingers at me and ordering and demanding my personal details, including my registration number. He told me you can be deported for what you were doing in the camp,” said the former KANERE reporter in an interview 30 minutes after the threatening meeting.
Forty minutes later, three KANERE journalists in the Ethiopian community restaurant with the Editor received a threatening call from the Kenyan police inspector ordering to the Editor to appear at the Kakuma Police Station on grounds of which the Editor was not informed. “You must come to the station and appear in person today and not later than tomorrow by 9:00am,” said a police inspector over the phone.
Due to the shocks of dangerous threats and arrests, KANERE immediately called and spoke to the UNHCR protection officer for help, but the officer could not help. The office of the DRA was also informed and there was no reaction. As the police were looking for the Editor, other reporters stopped their activities for a while. This issue is still pending as UNHCR is planning to hold a meeting with KANERE soon.
KANERE journalists remain frustrated with the entire situation. Journalists want to be free and independent in their reporting. Local humanitarian agencies continually say one thing and do another, conveying reassuring verbal messages that contradict the threatening reality on the ground. These events has massively hindered the operation of KANERE, jeopardizing the journalists’ personal safety, and slowing the achievement of KANERE’s vision for independent and active reporting. We appeal to UNHCR and local agencies to support a refugee free press, to respect human rights, and enable refugee journalists to create a more open society in the camp. Despite formidable obstacles in the current moment, the KANERE team remains committed to developing a platform for fair and public debate on refugee affairs through their reporting activities.
attended few meetings with the UNHCR and Lutheran World Federation (LWF). The meeting did not yield any discernable solution to the ongoing problems imposed on KANERE by both the security agencies and international “humanitarian” bodies which govern the refugee camp. These bodies are believed by journalists to be targeting the refugee free press.