Kenya | Four thousand people were detained for looking Somali

Since the first of April, over four thousand ethnic Somali’s, many of them Kenyan citizens, have been taken out of their houses, arrested and held for days in large wire cages in a stadium. Several hundreds have been deported to notorious refugee camps on the border. For weeks now, three hundred people have been imprisoned in a police station that has only two toilets.

Ethnic-Somali looking people –around five hundred thousand- in the Kenyan capital have been and are still searched and harassed in the streets. Parents have been taken away from children -including babies-, held incommunicado and beaten up. Mothers and children, greengrocers, journalists and taxi drivers have been loaded on trucks to be taken away somewhere with no explanation given to them. Women have been sexually harassed, people with money were told to give it to police officers in exchange for promises of release.

The raids, targeting anyone who looks Somali, were sparked by two grenade attacks in Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighbourhood, in which five people died, on 31 March. Remarkably, in spite of the United States’ FBI’s assistance to Kenyan police and intelligence agencies, no arrests have been made with regard to these incidents and there is no indication that they have been investigated. It is not even known whether the perpetrators, who left bags with grenades in two café’s, were of ethnic Somali origin.

Whilst some Kenyans on Twitter seem to support the raids on the Eastleigh-based  Somali community –‘they are all terrorists and must go back to their country’- , several commentators in Kenyan media have raised concerns, saying that Somalis have sought refuge in Kenya precisely because they were escaping from terrorism and war. They fear that law-abiding Somalis, after having faced serious abuse and harassment from the Kenyan authorities, might now be driven to look at Al-Shabab for protection.

Al-Shabab and related groups conduct armed attacks in Kenya ‘in retaliation’ for Kenya’s military ‘War on Terror’ involvement in neighbouring Somalia. The groups’ most notorious terrorist attack in Kenya so far was the Westgate mall siege in September last year, which left sixty people dead. Some arrests have been made linked to this attack, with the cases still awaiting trial. None of the arrested individuals, however, lived in Eastleigh.