From horror to hopelessness

Sat, 2009-04-04 16:53 by admin
From Horror to Hopelessness - Human Rights Watch

Kenya's forgotten Somali refugee crisis
Published by Human Rights Watch

Read the complete report (PDF, 648 KB)

“I fled Mogadishu in July [2008] because men wearing ski-masks were raping so many women near our home. Our family gave me money and when I reached Dadaab I paid a smuggler $500 to take us to Nairobi. A minibus drove me and 30 other refugees by night through the bush from Ifo camp towards Garissa town [100 kilometers south of Dadaab]. Near Garissa the smugglers told us to get out because they had seen a vehicle’s lights. One of the smugglers walked through the bush with us. Suddenly seven people with machetes and sticks approached us, beat us on our heads and backs and stole all our money. Then the minibus came back, the men ran away and we continued our journey. The driver paid bribes to the police in Garissa to allow us to leave town.

We stayed for two nights under the open sky in the bush just beyond Garissa and then continued. At the first police checkpoint we saw the driver pay police bribes. We continued to Mwingi town where police told the driver to collect $10 from everyone because “this checkpoint has not been paid for yet.” After the robbery in the bush we had no money so the police arrested all of us. We were split up. One group, including me, was taken to Mwingi police station and the other to Garissa police station.

In the Mwingi police station, I was held in a cell for 12 days with other women from the bus. Every morning, lunch and evening the police beat the older women on their heads and backs with plastic rods. The police shouted things like “why are you leaving Somalia and coming to Kenya?” Every day the police said they would release us if we paid KSh 20,000 each ($250). The police said we should get our relatives in Kenya or Somalia to pay for us. In the end they said they had to deport us because Kenyan newspapers had written about us and the government did not want to appear to be soft on Somalis.

The police then transferred me and others to Garissa police station for one night. When we arrived, the police made us line up facing a wall and said we should “think about never coming back to Kenya.” Then police officers hit all of us three or four times on the back and head with a stick. That night the Kenyan men in a cell next to ours, which was separated only by bars, urinated in plastic bags and threw them at us and cursed at us in Swahili all night long. We complained to the police but they did nothing to stop them.

In the end the police drove me and other refugees in trucks from Garissa police station to the border and told us to walk back to Doble in Somalia. Three weeks later I tried again and managed to reach Nairobi in the back of a truck with no windows.

Human Rights Watch interview with 15-year-old Somali girl in Nairobi, October 23, 2008.

I. Summary

Kenya is in the midst of a rapidly escalating refugee crisis. In 2008 alone, almost 60,000 Somali asylum seekers—165 every day—crossed Kenya’s officially closed border with Somalia to escape increasingly violent conflict in Somalia and to seek shelter in three heavily overcrowded and chronically under-funded refugee camps near Dadaab town in Kenya’s arid and poverty-stricken North Eastern Province. The camps now shelter over 260,000 refugees, making them the world’s largest refugee settlement.

The continuous cross-border movement gives the impression that the closing of the border by the Kenyan government in January 2007 has not affected Somali asylum seekers’ ability to seek refuge in Kenya. In reality, however, it has led to the Kenyan police forcibly returning asylum seekers and refugees to Somalia in violation of Kenya’s fundamental obligations under international and Kenyan refugee law, and to serious abuses of Somali asylum seekers and refugees. Emboldened by the power over refugees that the border closure has given them, Kenyan police detain the new arrivals, seek bribes—sometimes using threats and violence including sexual violence—and deport back to Somalia those unable to pay. By forcing the closure of a UNHCR-run registration center close to the border, the Kenyan authorities have also seriously aggravated the humanitarian assistance needs among Somalis arriving in the three camps near Dadaab town.

The influx of tens of thousands of new arrivals into the already severely overcrowded and under-resourced camps has exacerbated shortages of shelter, water, food, and healthcare for all refugees—new and old. An unknown further number of Somalis, possibly in the tens of thousands, have travelled directly to Nairobi where most disappear into the city, receiving no support and remaining invisible to the outside world. …

Read the complete report (PDF, 648 KB)