Human Rights Watch has released a report that accuses Kenyan police of extorting and abusing hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees and new asylum seekers since 2007.
The testimony from dozens of refugees is contained in a new Human Rights Watch report called "From Horror to Hopelessness: Kenya's Forgotten Somali Refugee Crisis."
Speaking to reporters in Nairobi, chief researcher Gerry Simpson said Kenyan police officers routinely harass, threaten, and physically abuse Somalis who are trying to enter the country or move from refugee camps to other parts of Kenya.
Simpson says police border guards often seek $50 bribes from new arrivals. He says those who cannot pay are sent back to Somalia in violation of international and Kenyan refugee laws or they are illegally detained.
"They systematically ask asylum seekers for bribes in exchange for free, onward movement to the camps. And when asylum seekers cannot pay those bribes, they arrest them. They detain them in Kenyan police stations, where they hold asylum seekers for 10 up to 14 days, during which time they beat them," Simpson said. "Sometimes, they whip them with rubber whips made out of car tires. And in one very serious case, we found that police in one of the camps raped a 17 year-old girl while in detention."
Human Rights Watch blames Kenya's political leaders for turning a blind eye to such police corruption and abuses, which it says have grown markedly worse since the government closed the Kenyan-Somali border in 2007.
The number of Somalis seeking asylum in Kenya has grown in the past two years amid a militant Islamist-led insurgency in Somalia that has killed tens of thousands of civilians and has forced more than one million others to leave their homes.
Human Rights Watch says while it recognizes that Kenya needs to secure its borders, the closure has not stopped the flow of people and instead is promoting rampant corruption, violence, and human smuggling.
In a statement, Kenyan Police Commissioner, Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali, called the charges against his officers "deliberate falsehoods concocted to discredit government efforts and to depict Kenya as being hostile to Somali refugees."
Last month, the Kenyan national police force was the subject of a damning U.N. report on extrajudicial killings in the east-African country. The report said security forces have executed more than 1,000 people (including suspected members of an outlawed gang called the Mungiki), political demonstrators during last year's post-election violence and suspected rebels in western Kenya.
More than 30 local human rights activists have reportedly gone into hiding or have fled the country after receiving anonymous death threats. The activists are believed to have cooperated with U.N. Special Investigator Philip Alston who authored the report.