News / Africa

Kenya Detains Over 300 East African Refugees

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Douglas Mpuga

Over 300 mainly Somali and Ethiopian refugees were reportedly detained earlier this week in Nairobi’s largely immigrant suburb of Eastleigh, and the arrests are continuing.

According to two non-governmental organizations – the International Rescue Committee and Kituo Cha Sheria(Center for Legal Empowerment) - the Kenyan police are raiding homes of refugees and making random arrests of individuals suspected of being in Kenya illegally.

“Last week, there was a grenade attack in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh [and] three policemen were killed in the incident,” said Kellie Leeson, the International Rescue Committee’s country director in Kenya.

Following the incident, she said, “police raided the area and a number of refugees were rounded up.”

Leeson said the refugees are now terrified and many have moved out of the area [Eastleigh] because they are scared of further raids.

“Many of the refugees who have been arrested have been held for more than 24 hours without being arraigned, so there is a lot of a concern about their rights, she said.

These refugees, she added, are [predominantly] Somali;  [but] some are Ethiopians and Eritreans.

Leeson said the refugees are an easy target because many of them do not know their rights.  On the other hand,  she said  “many refugees - [despite having] legal documentation-- are still being rounded up indiscriminately.”

She said in a report her organization issued earlier this year, “we found that there is a tremendous amount of discrimination and exploitation of refugees living in Nairobi.”

Leeson noted that the Kenyan government “took a big step forward “in supporting and protecting refugees with the Refugee Act of 2006 which outlines [their]  rights and measures to protect them.”   Unfortunately, she said,   there is lack of institutional capacity as well as absence of a national policy to execute it.

She emphasized the need to remember that refugees are forced out of their countries by violent conflict or persecution. “They [refugees] are not here by choice, and they should not suffer also here in Kenya as a result of this crackdown.”

The IRC has been providing humanitarian aid to refugees and the Kenyan communities that host them since 1992.

Kituo Cha Sheria (Center for Legal Empowerment) offers free legal aid services to urban refugees and asylum seekers in conjunction with the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, and other partner groups.

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