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By Qaabata Boru – firstname.lastname@example.org
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Some refugees and residents in Kakuma describe the attack on a police officer with mix feelings.
An administration police officer, Satati, based in the Jabelmarra zone of the Kakuma refugee camp fell into hot distilleries waste while fighting with suspected refugees in kakuma1 zone2 block11. The officer sustained serious injuries from his chest to his toes which were submerged in hot distilleries waste on fire in a drum. He was rushed to hospital after the incident was reported to police by Wami, an incentive refugee staff.
The incident happened on Christmas Eve, 25 December 2011 at 10:45pm in the refugee camp residential blocks. According to UNHCR camp regulations, no humanitarian officials – including the police – are allowed to stay or spend the night in the camps residential area after 06:00 PM.
Early that evening, however, Satati was seen in the residential area at Jack city restaurant in block11 where he had drinks with Wami who is described to be close to the police office. Satati was not in police uniform and did not carry his gun on him. He separated with Wami at about 09:00PM. His whereabouts between 09:00PM and 10:45PM are unknown. It was reported that Satati entered into the house where Zeina, a refugee woman, was sleeping. Satati woke her up by pushing her door but when she spoke to him Satati did not respond. He entered the lady’s house with no explanation, saying to Zeina “Nyamaza,” a Kiswahili word that means “keep quite.” Zeina screamed loudly out of fear that Satati was a robber. Zeina’s brother Tae came to her rescue only to find Satati chasing Zeina outside the compound. Tae knew the police office. When he tried to ask what his mission was at that hour of the night, Satati started murmuring that he lost his way. They started exchanging harsh words and a fight broke between them. While retreating, Satati accidentally fell down in the hot distilleries drum placed on the shallow grounds in a corner of the compound where he was severely burnt.
As soon as Tae realized what had happened, he came to the rescue of the officer and removed Satati out of the burning drum. Several neighbours arrived at the scene, including Wami, and alerted the police and an ambulance that took the injured Satati to the Refugee Camp Hospital. Satati was given First Aid and was transferred to the Kakuma Mission Hospital where he was under intensive care for over three weeks.
The police visited the scene the following morning. Tae and Zeina were taken to the station where they were accompanied by block leaders. They were asked to record their statements. After being interrogated over assaulting Satati, they were told to go back to their community. Tae, the young man who fought with Satati, fled the camp to South Sudan after learning that he was wanted by police.
However some refugees who knew Satati described him assaulting refugees during the Food Distribution Rations. He was repeatedly found mistreating refugees and was perceived to have negative opinions of the refugees generally. “He has no mercy; he used to beat people like dogs at food distribution centers. We know him for bad things, now he has caused problems for our people,” said a refugee leader in zone2 speaking anonymously.
Others reported that the police officer has harassed refugees about minor things. Many who have dealings with Satati are not happy with him. Many humanitarian officials are, of course, very kind and humble despite few exceptions who misuse their power to marginalize refugees in the camps. Moreover humanitarian officials frequently come to the refugee residential area and spend time with refugees. A woman openly admitted that she illegally sells alcohol because she has no other livelihood to sustain her children as the food rations are not enough. “We sell this product because of the problems. The food rations are not enough. No money, no vegetables, we are forced to confront many challenges,” said a Lotuko woman who asked to remain anonymous.
The community feels threatened by the action of police forces. On the morning of 28 December 2011, government security officers invaded the entire community with local commanders and caused a stand-still for hours. Refugees in the zone2 blocks were assaulted by the regular and administration police forces that were sent to arrest criminals and dealers of alcohol in those blocks. In the process of looking for the criminals and sellers of illegal breweries, several refugees reported being beaten by police who were bitter and vengeful due to Satati, the injured fellow police officer.
“I was beaten inside my houses. The police searched my house without any notice. I had to be treated at the camp hospital,” said a woman in block11. “My 4 year-old child was knocked down by a soldier in my compound. She was unconscious for 2 days; she also had to be treated at the hospital,” added a parent.
According to residents, about eight police vehicles full of armed officers surrounded the blocks and started beating people and kicking any thing on their way. “There were 8 police patrol vehicles, everyone was scared… Two officers entered my house, as I stood outside perplexed,” said an NGO staff residing in block11. Community members in block 11 and 12 ran away and spent over three nights elsewhere in search of safety away from the police.
The community members have described the actions of police officers as violating community policy and their human rights. The members stated that the whole Equatoria community should not be targeted in reaction to alleged wrongdoing by one individual of the community. “If the police knew any criminality done by people who fought with the injured police man, why did they release them after the first arrest? Innocent children feels terrorized… Where are their rights?” asked an angry youth at block4. The most affected blocks are blocks 11, 12, 4, 2 and 1.
On the December 31st, women and men from the Equatoria community assembled for a peaceful demonstration at the UNHCR Sub – Office Kakuma. The community raised their grievances following police brutality and demanded an explanation for why the entire community was targeted between December 28th and December 31st in what appeared to be acts of police vengeance. A delegation of fifteen protesters, including leaders, met with a UNHCR official to address these. The UNHCR official promised the group that there would be immediate follow-up by the agency.
Seven refugees were arrested and six were taken to a Kenyan court in Lodwar in connection to the incident. Among the six were a boy attending primary school, three women and a girl attending minor school. Saira, a pupil at Angelina Julie Girls Primary School in Kakuma camp was arrested on 28 December 2011 in a shop while buying washing powder in a shop. She and the other suspects were arraigned at the Lodwar court and sentenced to fines and imprisonment. Saira was taken back to Kakuma due to her age and to not having accompanying parents. She was locked in a Kakuma police cell from Dec 28th, 2011 to January 4th, 2012. Saira was released when her parent was able to raise Ksh. 5,000 for bail. Her parent demanded to know what crimes was Saira charged with but nothing was disclosed to them. “I asked the police to explain what crimes were committed by my daughter. She was locked in for 8 days. But I was not informed of anything. The police officer told me to go and pay the fine for her release but I didn’t have money that week,” said the parent.
The six suspected refugees appeared before the Lodwar Magistrate Court on 28 December 2011 and were charged with attacking the police office as well as manufacturing and consuming illegal alcohol. The court made ruling in each case on that day. None of the accused and imprisoned refugees were able to secure legal representation to accompany them from the UNHCR protection office at Kakuma.
Nyim was charged with illegally manufacturing breweries. Nyanga a mother of five was found drinking alcohol and was arrested with her thre month-old baby girl. She was imprisoned together with the child for eight months. Her family was scheduled by UNHCR for an eligibility test. Given the absence of the head of the family, the food ration of the family of six was reduced to four which rendered the four kids vulnerable to hunger. They had instead hoped that UNHCR would act on behalf of the family to release the imprisoned baby who was with the mother in Lodwar prison.
Another woman, Ditaz, was arrested for the same incident; however she was able to defend herself without legal representation and explained that she had no connection with the police allegations. She stated that she did not know why she was arrested and brought before the court. She was washing clothes when her neighbours who were suspected of brewing ran away. The police arrested her without asking any questions. The judge found in her favor and she was released two weeks later in January 2012.
Chimy was also detained in Lodwar until she could wait for the next hearing on 2 January 2012 when she was fined Ksh 5,000.00. Fortunately her relative traveled to Lodwar and could pay the fine so that she could be released. They both traveled back to Kakuma camp on the same day.
On the material day, a UNHCR official visited the Kakuma police station to follow up on the release of the arrested six members of the Equotaria community which was not fruitful. The Head Mistress at Angelina Julie Girls Primary School went to Lodwar court to seek the release of her pupil after being notified by the parent but she discovered that Saira had already been taken back to Kakuma under police custody. Questions were raised for better understanding of the cases at hand but it was all in vain.
According to the UNHCR report, “On 29th and 31st December, a joint operation compromised of regular and administration police officers led by the local commanders raided illegal alcohol distilleries in Kakuma1 zone2 blocks 5 and 9, which are predominantly inhabited by South Sudanese of Equatoria origin.” The report added that the ‘raids’ aimed to proactively prevent criminality in the camps during the holidays. “Several drums full of illicit alcohol had contents emptied and containers destroyed. A few suspects were also arrested in connection with the manufacturing of illegal alcohol and will be arraigned in court in Lodwar during the week.”
The Equatoria community has been connected to a number of reported incidents. The group is also known by refugees and host community members for widespread distillation of local breweries. Among other problems, the Equatoria community lived in terrible shelters with the poorest the living and sanitation conditions in kakuma1. Insecurity is a serious problem especially in residential blocks where conflicts arise between the members of the host community and members of the refugee community. The police patrols seem to be able to curb many of reported crimes and to mitigate many violent incidents but not all of them.
*All the names mentioned in the article are not the real names so as to preserve anonymity.