Somalis In Kenya Are Used To Raids, But They Say This Was Different

Somalis In Kenya Are Used To Raids, But They Say This Was Different

8:12pm Apr 18, 2014
Kenyan security officers rounded up people Friday as part of a crackdown that has swept up thousands of undocumented refugees, immigrants and Kenyan citizens of Somali descent in recent weeks.
Kenyan security officers rounded up people Friday as part of a crackdown that has swept up thousands of undocumented refugees, immigrants and Kenyan citizens of Somali descent in recent weeks.
Tony Karumba / AFP/Getty Images
  • Kenyan security officers rounded up people Friday as part of a crackdown that has swept up thousands of undocumented refugees, immigrants and Kenyan citizens of Somali descent in recent weeks.

    Kenyan security officers rounded up people Friday as part of a crackdown that has swept up thousands of undocumented refugees, immigrants and Kenyan citizens of Somali descent in recent weeks.

    Tony Karumba / AFP/Getty Images

  • Women wait for their identification to be vetted at a temporary center in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on April 9.

    Women wait for their identification to be vetted at a temporary center in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, on April 9.

    Tony Karumba / AFP/Getty Images

Mohammed Ali Isaac's hands shook as he showed his Kenyan ID to the police officers. They let him pass, but his cousins weren't so lucky. The two women had forgotten their IDs at home, and the police were threatening to load them into one of three large trucks they'd brought for the purpose.

Today's raid, with dozens of armed police officers in the middle of the day in the predominantly Somali neighborhood of Eastleigh in Nairobi, was timed for just after people streamed out of Friday prayers. It was the latest — and perhaps boldest — roundup in a series of police sweeps that have caught up thousands of undocumented refugees, immigrants and Kenyan citizens of Somali descent in recent weeks.

"I'm nervous," Mohammad Ali Isaac admitted. He was waiting with his cousins while they sent another relative back home to pick up the forgotten IDs. If his cousins were arrested, he said, it would be difficult to get them out without a bribe. And bribes, he added, were higher on Friday, when the police could threaten them with a whole weekend in the cell.

At age 20, Isaac is already a veteran of the struggle of growing up Somali in Kenya. The community has always felt like outsiders, despite the fact that Kenya is home to hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees, and to many more ethnic Somalis who were born here.

"In Eastleigh, we're used to police operations and police crackdown," said Ahmed Mohamed, secretary general of the Eastleigh Business District Association, which has 20,000 members. "But this is unprecedented. We've never seen such security forces during the daylight and during the Friday prayers."

Wearing his customary blue blazer, Mohamed said he was trying to negotiate with the police commander to stop the arrests, while aiming to quell an increasingly restive crowd.

Thirty-two people were arrested in the sweep, including the mother of a 4-month-old child who was hastily tossed into the arms of a relative. When that relative presented the baby to the crowd, there was an angry roar. A woman named Fatumah Hassan shouted that she was born in Kenya, but that if this harassment continued, she would "give up her Kenyan ID" and fight back. The crowd cheered in support.

"The fear," added Mohamed, the business leader, is that Kenya "will exacerbate the very thing they're fighting, which is radicalization."

The police commanders says Friday's sweep is a normal operation. The Kenyan police enforcement campaign began last week in response to two terrorist attacks: a deadly bombing here in Eastleigh, and a church shooting in the coastal city of Mombasa that killed six people. Neither of those attacks has been directly linked to Somalis.

However, the attack on Westgate Mall in September that killed at least 67 people was claimed by militants of al-Shabab, and some of those attackers used refugee cards to enter the country from Somalia. Since then, some Kenyan politicians have dusted off an old xenophobic pledge to drive all Somali refugees back to Somalia, though the Kenyan High Court recently declared that a violation of both Kenyan and international law.

Twenty-four-year-old Sadia, who asked that her last name not be used for safety reasons, said she was two months pregnant when police officers forced their way into her apartment last week. She showed them her refugee card from the United Nations, she said, that gives her protected status and the right to live in Kenya. She said the officers told her, "That's no good," and arrested her along with her three children, age 4, 3 and 1.

She had a miscarriage in prison two days later that she blames on rough handling by the police and sleeping on a cold cell floor comforting her toddler. When the bleeding wouldn't stop, two officials from the United Nations finally came to escort her to the hospital. But only long enough for a checkup — then back to her cell to spend a third night.

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish. In Kenya a recent rise in terror attacks and fears of an attack on Easter Sunday has provoked a countrywide crackdown on ethnic Somalis. Thousands of undocumented refugees, immigrants and Kenyan citizens of Somali descent have been arrested in recent weeks. NPR's Gregory Warner was out reporting in a Somali neighborhood in Nairobi when three police trucks pulled up carrying dozens of armed soldiers.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: A scene of total confusion here. It's right after Friday prayers and a couple of police trucks have pulled up right in the middle of Eastleigh which is a Somalian neighborhood of Nairobi. And they're basically just grabbing people and asking for their IDs. These women have - don't have their IDs. Apparently they left them at home and they're being questioned.

MOHAMMED ALI ISSAC: Just because they didn't get their IDs in pocket, that's why they are being held here.

WARNER: This is Mohammed Ali Issac, the women's cousin. Born with them in Kenya he shows me his own ID to prove it. Your hands are shaking a little bit. Are you a little bit...

ISSAC: Yeah, just because I'm nervous. Because if they take them then it's difficult to collect them unless you pay money.

WARNER: Pay a bribe which is higher on Fridays when police can threaten the whole weekend in a cell. At age 20 Issac is already a veteran of the struggle of growing up Somali in Kenya. While Kenya's home to hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees and many more ethnic Somalis who were born here, the community has always felt like outsiders.

AHMED MOHAMED: In Eastleigh we're used to police operations and police crackdown. But this is changing the face.

WARNER: Ahmed Mohamed is the Secretary General of the Eastleigh Business District Association with 20,000 members. I find him out here with the crowd in his blue blazer trying to negotiate with the police commander to stop these latest arrests. At the same time he's aiming to quell the growing anger of the crowd.

MOHAMED: But this is unprecedented. We never see such security forces during the daylight and during the Friday prayers.

WARNER: The police commander, Officer Kearich, tells me this is a normal police operation. It's part of the Kenyan police enforcement campaign that began last week in response to two terror attacks: a deadly bombing here in Eastleigh and a church shooting in the coastal city of Mombasa that killed six people. County assemblyman Asman Adow points out that none of these incidents have been linked to Somalis.

ASMAN ADOW: At least (unintelligible) the foot soldiers, none have them been Somalis.

WARNER: But the attack on Westgate Mall in September that killed at least 67 people was claimed by militants al-Shabaab. Some of those attackers used refugee cards to enter the country from Somalia. And since then some Kenyan politicians have dusted off an old xenophobic pledge to drive all Somali refugees back to Somalia, though the Kenyan high court recently declared that a violation of both Kenyan and international law.

SADIA: (Speaks foreign language)

WARNER: I met baby Mushen and his 24-year-old mother Sadia, who asked that I not use her last name, she was two months pregnant when special police officers forced their way into her apartment. She showed them her refugee card from the United Nations, the one that gives her protected status and the right to live in Nairobi. The officers told her that's no good and arrested her along with the baby and his two siblings age three and four.

SADIA: (Speaks foreign language)

WARNER: She had a miscarriage in prison two days later. She blames it on rough handling by the police and sleeping on a cold cell floor comforting her toddler. When the bleeding wouldn't stop two officials from the United Nations finally came to escort her to the hospital, but only long enough for a checkup, then back to her cell to spend a third night.

Back outside on the street police, in their daylight raid, have now filled up one of their three trucks with 32 people who don't have satisfactory ID. It includes a mother of a four-month-old baby hastily tossed into the arms of a relative. When that relative presents the swaddled baby to the crowd there's an angry roar.

Soon after, the negotiations with the commander seem to work. The police drive off with only the one truck loaded up, but the crowd lingers on.

FATUMAH HASSAN: (Speaks foreign language)

WARNER: My name is Fatumah Hassan, shouts one woman.

HASSAN: (Speaks foreign language)

WARNER: I was born in Garissa, that's in Kenya.

HASSAN: (Speaks foreign language)

WARNER: But I'll throw away my Kenyan ID and we will start fighting back. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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