NAIROBI — Somalis in Kenya say police are systematically soliciting bribes during an ongoing crackdown on suspected illegal immigrants. Police have denied the allegations.
Police searched the home of 20-year-old, Kenya-born Farhia who lives in a small apartment in Nairobi's predominantly Somali Eastleigh neighborhood. VOA visited her just minutes after the search.
“They came to my house just now,” she told VOA. “I showed them my student ID then my birth certificate. They were not interested in either of that. They told me to give them money and they will release me.”
Farhia says she gave them 5,000 shillings, or about $60.
For residents of Eastleigh, these shakedowns have become a common occurrence, with police visiting the same home up to six times a day, sometimes knocking in the middle of the night. Somalis say the police call them ATMs -- human cash machines.
Others say police have taken jewelry, smart phones and other valuables.
The door-to-door searches are part of a crackdown on illegal immigrants following recent attacks and threats on the country claimed by Somali militants.
Police say hundreds of people have been arrested and at least 82 have been deported to Somalia since operations began last week.
Mohamed Hussein Maalim lives in the same building as Farhia. He says would not have an issue with the operation, if it was carried out responsibly.
“With those persons who have no ID, who have no identification cards, who are illegal in this country, return them back to their country," said Maalim. "We won't have any problem and we are happy with that.”
Masoud Mwimyi, spokesperson for Kenya's National Police Service, says he is aware of the accusations of police bribery but adds he has not received any formal reports.
“We are hearing people make allegations through various avenues in the media, and we have told them if it is indeed true that there are any police officers engaged in any professional malpractices, they should formally report to us, so that we can investigate," said Mwimyi.
The al-Qaida-linked militant group al-Shabab, which claimed responsibility for the deadly terrorist siege at Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall last year, has vowed retaliation for Kenya's military presence in Somalia.
A shooting at a church last month and the unexplained killing of a radical Muslim cleric have also raised tensions in the country.
Maalim, who studies at a technical college in Nairobi, says there is a growing mistrust of Somalis in Kenya.
“One problem, people lost faith in me, all my friends, no one trusts me, all my classmates who studied together don't trust me," said Maalim. "Tomorrow I want to vie for the chairmanship in the student council in the campus. I can't vie because I'm a 'terrorist' -- I'm branded with that name.”
Police say operations will continue across the country to find illegal immigrants living in smaller towns and cities, and to seek out those who may have escaped Nairobi during the first sweep.