Kenya police abuse Somali refugees: rights group.

Halkaan ka akhri

NAIROBI – French State Secretary for Human Rights Rama Yade visits Somali refugees at the Dadaab camp in northeastern Kenya, 2008. Kenyan officials have deported hundreds of Somalis fleeing violence, demanded bribes through threats and sexual violence and forced back those unable to pay, a human rights group said.

Corrupt and violent Kenyan police abuse and extort money from hundreds of thousands of refugees who have fled volatile Somalia, a human rights watchdog said on Monday.

Kenyan officials did not immediately comment on the report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), which also accused the authorities of forcibly deporting hundreds of asylum seekers desperate to reach the world’s largest refugee settlement.

More than 250,000 people eke out a living in Dadaab’s three overcrowded camps near the Somali border in the arid and impoverished northeast of Kenya, the region’s biggest economy.

Aid agencies expect to see 100,000 new arrivals there this year as a tide of Somalis flee the conflict between an Islamist-led insurgency and the new government in the capital Mogadishu.

“People escaping the violence in Somalia need protection and help, but instead face more danger, abuse and deprivation,” said the report, “From Horror to Hopelessness: Kenya’s forgotten Somali Refugee Crisis.”

More than 17,000 civilians have been killed in two years of fighting in the failed Horn of Africa state. More than a million people have fled their homes and a third of the population — more than three million people — depend on emergency food aid.

The pro-al Qaeda militant group al Shabaab, which controls large swathes of southern and central Somalia, is the main obstacle for Somalia’s new president, Sheikh Sharif Ahmed, who is trying to restore peace after 18 years of violence.

The author of the report, Gerry Simpson, said the Dadaab camps were likely to become fertile recruiting grounds for al Shabaab if living conditions there do not improve.

“When refugees find themselves in dire humanitarian circumstances, frustration and the will to do anything to get out of that situation is likely to grow,” Simpson told a news conference in Nairobi in neighboring Kenya.

“In our view, the humanitarian crisis in Dadaab is likely to increase recruitment of al Shabaab.”

BRIBES AND THREATS

HRW spoke to dozens of refugees and documented cases of corrupt police officials routinely demanding cash from Somalis as they arrived or left the camps for other parts of Kenya.

The Kenyan government closed its porous desert frontier with Somalia in January 2007 after the United States helped push the Islamic Courts group out of power. The United Nations and aid agencies denounced the move at the time as a violation of human rights.

HRW said in its report that it recognized Kenya’s legitimate security concerns. But it said the closure had failed to stem the influx of tens of thousands of refugees and instead had given rise to the proliferation of people-smuggling groups.

Although asylum seekers are paying smugglers up to $500 to ensure they reached Dadaab safely, police corruption was so endemic that the fee did not guarantee safe passage, it added.

“Emboldened by the power over refugees that the border closure has given them, Kenyan police detain the new arrivals, seek bribes — sometimes using threats and violence including sexual violence — and deport back to Somalia those unable to pay,” the report said.

HRW accused the Kenyan authorities of forcibly returning hundreds, perhaps thousands, of asylum seekers and refugees across the border in a direct breach of international law.

Kenyan government spokesman Alfred Mutua said he had not read the report yet and so could not comment. Simpson said Kenyan police officials told him they would consider holding internal investigations, after they had read his report.

(Additional reporting by Wangui Kanina; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

Sourse Reuters

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