Somali refugees and asylum-seekers living in Kenya are being trapped in a catch-22 situation by the government’s counter-terrorism crackdown, Amnesty International said as thousands of Somalis continued to be rounded up by security forces in Nairobi.
Registration of Somali refugees in Kenya has been largely halted since 2011, preventing many who should qualify for refugee status from obtaining papers. Without these they could be returned to Somalia, where they may be at risk of human rights abuses.
“Thousands of unregistered Somali refugees and asylum-seekers are in an impossible situation: they face arrest and deportation because they are not registered, but it is extremely difficult for them to register,” said Michelle Kagari, Deputy Regional Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme.
“The Kenyan government is punishing refugees and asylum-seekers for being in a legal limbo that it has created, while showing no consideration for their human rights.”
Somali refugees told Amnesty International they had faced intimidation, beatings and unlawful detention at the hands of security forces conducting house-to-house searches in predominantly Somali neighbourhoods over the past week.
Ahmed, 26, who was taken from his home to the Kasarani football stadium to have his papers checked on 7 April, said: “They came to my house in the middle of the night and demanded my papers. My ID had expired. They said ‘this is not real ID’ so they beat and kicked me and then took me to Kasarani.”
Unregistered asylum-seekers are at particular risk, though people with valid papers have also been arbitrarily detained, threatened and mistreated.
Mohamed, who was arrested on 6 April near Eastleigh, a predominantly Somali area of Nairobi, told Amnesty International: “Four policemen stopped me and asked for my ID. I showed them my refugee card; they said it meant nothing. They demanded 35,000 KSh ($400 US) from me. When I didn’t have it, they told me I was al-Shabab and forced me to go with them.”
He was detained at the Kasarani stadium, where many refugees have been taken for screening, before being moved to a police station overnight. The following day he was released along with 47 others, but he now has no ID.
“When they brought us back to Eastleigh they didn’t give me my refugee mandate back. They told me to come back the next day to Kasarani, but when I went I was told to come back another time,” he said.
Refugees and asylum-seekers without IDs are at high risk of arrest and detention. Though Mohamed is legally in Kenya, he is unable to move around freely for fear of arrest.
“I didn’t sleep last night. Now I don’t have an ID, if they arrest me right now, I have nothing to show,” he said.
The Kenyan government has been carrying out a large-scale anti-terror operation called Rudisha Usalama (“restore peace”) since 2 April, arresting more than 4,000 people throughout the country, mainly from the Somali community.
“Such blanket arrests are discriminatory and arbitrary. Marginalizing entire communities is not the way to deal with insecurity, and may well cause further insecurity,” Michelle Kagari said.
The government crackdown on refugees has escalated since Kenya’s Secretary of Interior, Ole Lenku, issued a directive on 26 March ordering all refugees to move to run-down and overcrowded camps in northern Kenya.
This followed a similar government directive in December 2012, which was quashed by Kenya’s High Court in July 2013.
The Court said relocation to the camps would violate refugees’ dignity and freedom of movement and risks indirectly forcing them back to Somalia. The Court also ruled that the Kenyan government had not proved that the move would help protect national security.
The current crackdown is not only in breach of the High Court judgement, but has also been implemented unlawfully.
Ibrahim, a Somali elder in Eastleigh, told Amnesty International: “The way they’re treating people is forcing people to go back to Somalia.”
Amnesty International’s report published in February, No Place Like Home: Returns and Relocations of Somalia’s Displaced, documented how widespread intimidation and lack of respect for human rights are forcing Somali refugees out of Kenya.
On 9 April, the Somali embassy in Nairobi said that Kenya had deported 82 Somalis to Mogadishu. More are expected to be deported in the coming days.
“These deportations to a volatile security situation in Somalia may well amount to refoulement,” said Michelle Kagari.
“Forcibly returning people to places where their lives or freedoms are at risk would violate international refugee law, which Kenya is bound to respect.”