Thousands Arrested, Almost 100 Deported
April 11, 2014
Scapegoating and abusing Somalis for heinous attacks by unknown people is not going to protect Kenyans, Somalis, or anyone else against more attacks. Kenya's deportation of Somalis to their conflict-ridden country without allowing them to seek asylum would be a flagrant breach of its legal obligations.
Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher

Kenyan police and other security agencies should stop arbitrary arrests and detentions, extortion, and other abuses against Somalis during security operations,  Human Rights Watch said today. The government should also halt summary deportations and ensure that any undocumented Somalis are given the opportunity to file asylum claims.

On April 4 and 8, 2014, Human Rights Watch visited Pangani police station in Eastleigh and found hundreds of detainees packed into cells designed to accommodate 20 people. Detainees had no room to sit, and the cells were filthy with urine and excrement. Police were also holding detainees beyond the 24-hour limit proscribed under Kenyan law, without taking them to court. One man at Pangani station complained to Human Rights Watch that he had been held for eight days without being taken to court.

“Scapegoating and abusing Somalis for heinous attacks by unknown people is not going to protect Kenyans, Somalis, or anyone else against more attacks,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Kenya’s deportation of Somalis to their conflict-ridden country without allowing them to seek asylum would be a flagrant breach of its legal obligations.”

Since April 2, almost 4,000 people are reported to have been arrested and detained in Nairobi and Mombasa. According to Human Rights Watch research, some of the detainees have been released after they produced identification documents, but only after days in deplorable detention conditions or after they paid bribes. On April 9, the Kenyan authorities summarily deported 82 undocumented Somali nationals from the capital, Nairobi, to Somalia. Kenyan officials have said that they plan to deport all undocumented Somali nationals as part of the response to recent grenade and other attacks in Kenya by unidentified people.

The Kenyan government began a massive security operation in Nairobi’s predominantly Somali Eastleigh district on April 2. On April 9, Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku told the media that, during “Operation Usalama Watch,” police had arrested “almost 4,000 people.” An Administration Police spokesman, Masoud Mwinyi, said police had arrested and screened 3,000 people of whom 467 had been detained for further investigation. He said police had also charged 67 people with various unspecified offenses.

According to Kenyan officials, the operation began in response to a number of attacks in Nairobi and Mombasa in March that killed a total of 12 people and injured 8 more. An attack on a Nairobi shopping mall in September 2013 killed 67 people and injured hundreds.

Kenyan police operations in Nairobi and Mombasa in the wake of attacks have resulted on numerous occasions in serious human rights violations against both refugees and Kenyan citizens, Human Rights Watch said.

In the Pangani police station, Human Rights Watch witnessed police whipping, beating, and verbally abusing detainees. There have been numerous credible accounts of Kenyan security forces extorting money and beating people during the arrests and in detention.  

Hundreds, and possibly thousands, of people have also been detained in the Kasarani sports stadium in Nairobi. Independent investigators and media were denied access to Kasarani until April 9, when a limited visit was permitted. People who participated said that they were only provided limited access and were not able to freely interview detainees in the stadium.

On April 8, Lenku said, “The process will continue until we do not have illegal aliens and those found to have refugees documents are taken to refugees camps.”

Kenyan security forces, including the Administration Police and General Service Unit (GSU) have a  record of committing serious human rights violations during security operations against communities of ethnic Somalis, Human Rights Watch said.

A May 2013 Human Rights Watch report described how Kenyan police in Nairobi tortured, raped, and otherwise abused and arbitrarily detained at least 1,000 refugees, including women and children, between mid-November 2012 and late January 2013, following grenade and other attacks in Eastleigh. The police called the refugees “terrorists” and said they should move to the refugee camps.

“For the second time in less than two years, the world is looking on aghast as Kenyan security forces abuse countless men, women, and children alike in the heart of Kenya, just a stone’s throw from government ministries and the United Nations,”  Simpson said.

The police sweeps follow an announcement on March 26 that all urban refugees were required to move to refugee camps. Such a move would violate a July 26, 2013 Kenyan High Court ruling, which quashed an identical government refugee relocation plan from December 2012.  

According to credible sources, some Somali refugees arrested in Eastleigh in the April operation were released with an order to report to the refugee camps within two weeks.

On April 9, Somalia’s ambassador to Kenya told journalists that Kenya had deported 82 Somali nationals to Mogadishu, the Somali capital.

Kenya should stop summarily deporting Somali nationals, which risks violating its obligations under Kenyan and international law not to return anyone to situations of persecution or generalized violence. Any undocumented individuals should be given the opportunity to file an application for asylum, Human Rights Watch said.

The Kenyan government should provide full access to staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to interview and register asylum claims of undocumented Somalis.

In January, the United Nations refugee agency issued guidelineson returns to Somalia and called on countries not to return anyone before interviewing them and ensuring they do not face the threat of persecution or other serious harm if returned. UNHCR said that Somalia remains “a very dangerous place” and that no Somali national should be “forcibly returned to Somalia unless the returning state is convinced that the persons involved would not be at risk of persecution.”

Human Rights Watch said the Kenyan authorities were obliged to allow UNHCR to register asylum claims from anyone in Kenya, regardless of how long the person had been in Kenya before lodging a claim. Although Kenyan refugee law says an asylum seeker should lodge their claim with the authorities within 30 days of arrival, UNHCR does not impose any such deadline. Somali nationals’ access to UNHCR is all the more important after Kenya suspended all services to urban refugees, including registering new asylum seekers, in December 2012.

Kenyan immigration law allows the authorities to regulate who is in Kenya, and Kenya may prevent certain categories of people from entering or remaining in the country, including those deemed to be a security threat.

However, Kenyan and international law prohibit refoulement – forcible return to persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, or to a situation where a person would be at real risk of torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Kenya is also prohibited from returning anyone to a place where their “life, physical integrity, or liberty would be threatened on account of external aggression, occupation, foreign domination, or events seriously disturbing public order.”

In its January 2014 guidelines, UNHCR said that it “consider[s] the options for Somalis to find protection from persecution or serious harm within Southern and Central Somalia to be limited,” especially in the large areas that remain under the control of the Islamic militant group Al-Shabaab.

Al-Shabaab has continued to forcibly recruit people into its ranks, including children, and to target individuals perceived to support the Somali government and its partners. On March 5, al-Shabaab publicly executed three alleged spies in Barawe, one of the group’s strongholds.

UNHCR also noted an increase in al-Shabaab attacks in 2013 in Mogadishu that killed civilians. Conflict related injuries in Mogadishu and the southern port town of Kismayo also increased in early 2014. 

According to UNHCR, 1.1 million people are currently displaced within Somalia, including 369,000 in Mogadishu. In a March 2013 report, Human Rights Watch found that members of state security forces and armed groups had raped, beaten, and otherwise mistreated displaced Somalis in Mogadishu.A February 2014 Human Rights Watch report documented high levels of rapeand sexual abuse against displaced women and girls in the capital throughout 2013.

In other parts of south-central Somalia, a joint military offensive by the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) and the Somali National Armed Forces (SNAF) against al-Shabaab has resulted in new internal displacement, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

Foreign donors to Kenya and UNHCR should vigorously and publicly oppose summary deportations of Somalis, Human Rights Watch said.

“Kenya’s summary deportation of Somali nationals should end,” Simpson said. “Undocumented people should be given the opportunity to file an asylum application rather than being summarily deported back to the dangers of south-central Somalia.”