By Ibrahim Gindicha & Qaabata Boru
Terror attacks had negative implications for refugees following the Westgate tragedy, with arbitrary arrest and detention of innocent refugees
On Saturday 21 September 2013, the smartest mall in the upper part of Nairobi was offensively attacked by Al-Shabaab terrorist group who claimed responsibility. At least 75 people were killed while about 200 were injured in the bloody shootings. The attackers held hundreds of people hostages for four days in the shopping mall.
FBI detectives from outside Kenya are yet to complete their investigations despite pressure mounting for results, according to Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary for Interior Security Joseph Ole Lenku. The episode has been cast in different lights due a lot of disarray as the Kenya military assigned to pursue the attackers at the mall were seen looting money in banks within the mall and other valuables.
This was taken by the CCTV cameras and later sold to the public by private business people. Although the Kenya Defense Cabinet Secretary Rachel Omamo denied that the military was involved in looting, she further challenged whoever had evidence to come forward and produce it. The question which is yet to get answered is: how can the soldiers who are being targeted by an enemy, who are supposed to be alert, divert to other vices?
Police Target Refugees
The Kenya security machinery had to crack down in Kenya’s major metropolis in the hunt for possible culprits. Kenya has heightened its security system in response to terrorist attacks but the fight turned to be against the refugees as the country is cracking down on illegal migrants.
The refugees are arrested and arraigned to the courts and charged with illegal trespass. The Somalis and Ethiopians moreover, who have similar facial complexion, have been targeted in the crackdown by Kenya Police Service in the major towns and along Kakuma – Kitale – Nairobi Way.
People travelling by bus are now at risk of detention
On Sunday 29th September 2013, a Somali bus traveling from Kakuma to Nairobi was blocked on its way at the Burnt Forest Police Station. Refugees were made to line up for identification check for a few hours in the sun and an unknown number were arrested.
On Monday, Sep. 30th, 2013, more than 20 refugees were arrested at Nakuru township as they got off the vehicle they were travelling in and were driven to Nakuru Police Station. In an interview Kanere learnt that the refugees are registered with the UNHCR in Kenya. “I was arrested together with 20 others, we had documents but police wish to verify all identification papers,” a Somali woman told Kanere.
On Tuesday 1st Oct 2013, three Dayah buses ferrying refugees from Nairobi to Kakuma refugee camp were stopped in Nakuru Township and driven to Nakuru police station where the passengers were screened. Again, two other buses were stopped at Burnt Forest and an unknown number of refugees were arrested. In that afternoon, at least 25 refugees of mixed nationalities were brought before the Eldoret Court and charged with being illegal migrants.
Kanere reporters couldn’t interview more of the refugees due to what police described as security concern for isolated cases with connections to terror suspects. However, in speaking with the officer commanding Uasin Gishu District Police Irungu Wa Gikonya, the friendly speaking senior officer denied their arrest and provided the telephone number of the arresting officer, but the said officer could not be reached for press interview.
From the Eldoret Magistrates Court, Kanere’s national reporter was not allowed to attend the proceedings as the officials at the registry had a specific list of allowed journalists from specific media houses. The refugees are left abandoned without any legal remedy.
Outside the court building, Kanere interviewed a few Somali and Ethiopian refugees. Several of them were arraigned in the court and the magistrate gave a verdict. On Thursday, 3rd October 2013, out of 25 arrested refugees, 15 were freed on paying between Ksh 2,000 to 5,000 each at a court in Eldoret.
An Islamic leader, Mohammed Amin, told Kanere in interview that he was arrested due to the lack of travel documents but had the UNHCR papers. Through an interpreter Sheik Amin stated that he was denied food for some days. “I felt humiliated in the cell, I was not given time to speak out before being released with a fine of Kshs 6,000,” the tired and hungry sheik told Kanere.
The judicial system should keep off un-procedural process! Several refugees made negative comments about the judicial process due to the fact that some victims of the crackdown on illegal immigrants were released from prison and later got re-arrested in a police station.
In Kakuma refugee camp, at least eight people of Somali origin were arrested by anti-terror police unit in connection with terror suspects and were flown to Nairobi. However, after a couple of weeks seven people were freed after interrogation, but there are still fears in the heart of Somalis on security matters.
KANERE further made inquiries if the individuals who are arrested are linked to Al-Shabaab but they all denied such allegations. “I am a true Muslim. We do not even accept such things in our communities even in the camps, we don’t allow terrorists within our midst,” said an anonymous Somali refugee.
The Kenya government officially announced the 4th – 7th day of October as a national day of mourning for the Westgate tragedy. However, it’s not clear yet how many terrorists invaded the mall? How many were killed and how many were able to escape?
Looking at the crackdown on the refugees in Kenya, it casts doubt on whether all refugees are terrorists? The government should come up with credible machinery to differentiate innocent refugees from terrorists.
The Camp authority should provide the necessary documents in time so that refugees can access important services like hospital referrals, visiting relatives, free interactions and other businesses. The Kenyan Ministry for Interior security should stop using the police to demand a lot of money from the refugees. There have been several reports of corruption along the main corridor that connects Eldoret – Kitale route into Turkana West County.
Nonetheless, if there was no answer for a simple question like why the dead Asians found at the mall had no identification cards with them, a gigantic question like “are all refugees terrorists?” will probably never be answered!