Concern over mass arrests of Somali refugees
Nairobi – The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR on Monday expressed concern over a wave of arrests of Somali refugees during the weekend in Nairobi.
More than 1 000 Somalis are being held by Kenyan police in a soccer stadium, reports said. The refugees were arrested in a week-long sweep through Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighbourhood, which has a large Somali population, in what police say is part of a security operation to rout out terrorists.
The UNHCR, which has not been granted access to the Kasarani stadium, said that “asylum seekers and refugees are to be protected against arbitrary arrest and detention”.
A photo circulating on Kenyan social media showed dozens of Somalis held in a cage-like structure. Rumours swirl in the Somali community about lack of food, water and medicine in the stadium.
Refugees infected with tuberculosis were allowed to leave. Kenyan Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said more than 4 000 people have been arrested.
The mass arrests are part of a crackdown on Somalis suspected of belonging to or sympathizing with the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab following two attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa that killed 12 people more than a week ago.
Hundreds of paramilitary police have manned checkpoints and conducted door-to-door searches in Eastleigh. Police said they have discovered a roadside bomb, bomb-making materials in an apartment and arrested a couple in possession of grenades.
The Kenyan government has long maintained that Somalis are harbouring terrorists, and has twice ordered refugees in Nairobi to move to camps in the country’s north. A Kenyan court rejected the order as illegal.
A dpa correspondent witnessed police chasing ethnic Somalis with sticks in Eastleigh. In one apartment building, doors were broken down.
Residents said police smashed them open after the occupants refused to open them. A woman in that building displayed a bruise on her shoulder she said was inflicted by police as they ransacked the apartment in search of bomb-making materials. Eastleigh residents also complain that anyone of Somali ethnicity – refugees or Kenyan citizens – are targeted by police for bribes.
One woman said police demanded more than $300 to release her relative. There are more than 500 000 Somali refugees living in Kenya, including 50 000 in Nairobi.