Kenya police accused of abusing Somali refugees

Somali asylum-seekers fleeing their war-torn country are routinely raped, beaten, detained and blackmailed by Kenyan police when crossing the border, said a report published on Thursday.

In its 99-page report entitled, “Welcome to Kenya: Police Abuse of Somali Refugees”, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged Kenya to rein in its police and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) to step up its monitoring of the situation.

“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, the report’s main author.

An estimated 40 000 Somalis crossed the long porous border with Kenya in the first four months of 2010 alone in a bid to reach one of the camps in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee settlement, with a population of close to 300 000.

“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,” Simpson added.

Based on interviews conducted with more than 100 refugees, the New York-based watchdog’s report cites instances of rape and denounces organised extortion from the police force tasked with monitoring the border.

“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,” HRW said.

“The police say they are protecting Kenya from terrorists and are enforcing immigration laws when they stop refugees,” Simpson said.

“But the fact that they extort Somalis to pay their way through checkpoints and out of police custody suggests more concern for lining their pockets than protecting their borders,” he added.

Kenya’s police, whose reform is a key international demand, have for years topped Transparency International’s rankings of most corrupt institutions.—AFP

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