Kenya: Police Abuse Somali Refugees

Kenyan police at the Somali border and in nearby refugee camps are abusing asylum seekers and refugees fleeing war-torn Somalia, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Kenya should immediately rein in its abusive police, and the UN refugee agency should step up its monitoring of the situation and press for an end to the abuses, Human Rights Watch said. 

Based on interviews with over 100 refugees, the 99-page report, "‘Welcome to Kenya’: Police Abuse of Somali Refugees," documents widespread  police extortion of asylum seekers trying to reach three camps near the Kenyan town of Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee settlement. Police use violence, arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention in inhuman and degrading conditions, threats of deportation, and wrongful prosecution for "unlawful presence" to extort money from the new arrivals – men, women, and children alike. In some cases, police also rape women. In early 2010 alone, hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Somalis unable to pay extortion demands were sent back to Somalia, in flagrant violation of Kenyan and international law.

"People fleeing the mayhem in Somalia, the vast majority women and children, are welcomed to Kenya with rape, whippings, beatings, detention, extortion, and summary deportation," said Gerry Simpson, refugee researcher for Human Rights Watch and principal author of the report. "Once in the camps, some refugees face more police violence and the police turn a blind eye to sexual violence by other refugees and local Kenyans."

Dozens of asylum seekers from among the estimated 40,000 Somalis who crossed Kenya’s officially closed border near the camps in the first four months of 2010 told Human Rights Watch that police ignored their pleas for free passage from the border. Instead, the police demanded money and deported or detained, beat, and falsely charged them with unlawful presence if they could not pay. A Kenyan refugee aid worker described the police operation between the border and Garissa, the provincial capital, as "one big money-making machine."

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