News / Africa

    Human Rights Watch Condemns Abuse of Somali Refugees in Kenya

    Michael Onyiego

    In recent years, Kenya has struggled to secure its borders against terrorist threats from neighboring Somalia.  As refugees from the war-torn state continue to pour in, Human Rights Watch has raised concerns over abuse committed by Kenyan authorities in the name of national security. 

    Somali refugees have become an increasing problem for Kenya over the past few years.  Somalia has been in a near constant state of conflict for almost two decades and as control of the Horn of African nation slips further from the grasp of the United Nations-backed government, refugees have fled for Kenya's more stable borders.

    New York-based Human Rights Watch estimates that more than 320,000 registered Somali refugees now live in Kenya.  More than 40,000 of them arrived in the early months of 2010 alone.

    Kenyan authorities have been relatively receptive to the influx.  But the rights organization has raised concerns in recent years about abuse being endured by refugees at the hands of police in the region.

    On Thursday, Human Rights Watch published a report entitled Welcome to Kenya, which details the widespread abuse of Somali asylum seekers.

    According to the report, asylum seeker are regularly subjected to physical violence, including rape and police extortion en route to the refugee camps around Dadaab, a town approximately 100 kilometers from the border.

    Kenyan law allows refugees 30 days to register for asylum regardless of the legality of their entry.  But the report lists incidents of refugees being subjected to charges of "unlawful presence in Kenya" and being forced to pay fines.  If they do not pay, the refugees risk deportation to Somalia, in violation of international law.

    The report also says threats of extortion have driven asylum seekers off the established routes to Dadaab, exposing them to further danger from local criminals.

    Part of the problem, according to Human Rights Watch, was the official closure of the border in January of 2007.  Prior to the closure, the U.N. High Commission for Refugees operated a refugee transit facility in Liboi, just 15 kilometers from the border.  It provided screening and safe passage for asylum seeker to the camps around Dadaab.

    After the border closed, the Liboi center was removed and police turned away refugees.  Human Rights Watch published a report in 2009 calling on Kenyan authorities to reopen the border and allow the center to continue its work.

    Police officials have downplayed the findings of the report but revealed that a committee made up of officials, religious and civil society leaders from North Eastern Province has been established to investigate the abuse.

    Kenyan police deputy spokesperson Charles Owino highlighted the country's high level of refugee support compared to other countries in the region, and he said that while Kenya would not discriminate against Somalis, security is a major concern along the northeastern borders.

    "We are not supposed to associate a particular ethnic group with terrorism.  It is not appropriate and it is not in order.  But generally, we know that there is general fear of some of these cases.  Our country has been very unfortunate.  We had a serious bombing in this country, and therefore we cannot compromise matters of security.  Any person is capable of undertaking terrorism activities, and therefore we are not targeting a particular group," Owino said. "Let us understand that this beautiful country of Kenya has been of great support to our neighbors in Somalia compared to Ethiopia, Djibouti or Eritrea."

    Terrorism is a constant threat along Kenya's border with Somalia.  The east African nation has suffered a serious of attacks, most recently in May, by al-Shabaab, an Islamist militant group attempting to overthrow the Somali government.

    A researcher for Human Rights Watch's refugee program, Gerry Simpson, acknowledged Kenya's contributions to Somali refugees as well as the threats Kenya faces.  But, he added, those issues do not justify abuse.

    "We know that Kenya has been generous toward Somali refugees for two decades.  There are now 320,000 registered Somalis in Kenya and we know that is a burden on Kenya. However, that burden in no way excuses the kind of abuses that we have been documenting. We are concerned that evidence we have heard from refugees about police calling them terrorists is a reflection of a general political discourse that has demonized Somalis increasingly and that that has encouraged police in the border areas to engage in these abuses ostensibly in the name of protecting national security," Simpson said.

    In addition to the Kenyan police, the report strongly condemns the UNHCR for its failure to identify and report the abuse occurring in the camps. Human Rights Watch has called on the international agency to drastically improve its monitoring of the situation in order to protect the Somali refugees.

    You May Like

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Before burial at overflowing cemeteries, unidentified dead being swapped for DNA, in case some day relatives come to learn their fate

    Russian Opposition Leader Sues Putin for Conflict of Interest

    Alexei Navalny tells VOA in exclusive interview why transfer of $2 billion from country’s wealth fund to company with ties to President Putin’s son-in-law triggered lawsuit

    How Diversity Has Changed America

    Over the past four decades, the level of diversity in the United States has increased most in these four states

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Filli
    X
    Hamada Elsaram
    February 11, 2016 8:01 PM
    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video US Co-ed Selective Service Plan Stirs Controversy

    Young women may soon be required to register with the U.S. Selective Service System, the U.S. government agency charged with implementing a draft in a national emergency. Top Army and Marine Corps commanders told the Senate Armed Services Committee recently that women should register, and a bill has been introduced in Congress requiring eligible women to sign up for the military draft. The issue is stirring some controversy, as VOA’s Bernard Shusman reports from New York.
    Video

    Video Lessons Learned From Ebola Might Help Fight Zika

    Now that the Ebola epidemic has ended in West Africa, Zika has the world's focus. And, as Carol Pearson reports, health experts and governments are applying some of the lessons learned during the Ebola crisis in Africa to fight the Zika virus in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Illinois Voters Have Mixed Emotions on Obama’s Return to Springfield

    On the ninth anniversary of the launch of his quest for national office, President Barack Obama returned to Springfield, Illinois, to speak to the Illinois General Assembly, where he once served as state senator. His visit was met with mixed emotions by those with a front-row seat on his journey to the White House. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Heated Immigration Debate Limits Britain’s Refugee Response

    Compared to many other European states, Britain has agreed to accept a relatively small number of Syrian refugees. Just over a thousand have arrived so far -- and some are being resettled in remote corners of the country. Henry Ridgwell reports on why Britain’s response has lagged behind its neighbors.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.