Somali nationals living in the Kenyan capital say they fear increased harassment by the police after a deadly grenade explosion at a bus station on 20 December.
"Whenever incidents occur, such as the explosion, the first people targeted are Muslims in general and Somalis in particular,” Ali Mohamud, a member of parliament in Somalia, told IRIN in the district of Eastleigh, where many Somalis live.
“This has adversely affected refugees because they tend to get arrested whether or not they have legal documentation," he added.
While Kenyan police have identified one of the bombers as a Tanzanian national among the would-be passengers of the Uganda-bound bus, officials in both Nairobi and Kampala suspect the blast, in which one bomber died and dozens were injured, may be linked to Al-Shabab, the main Islamist insurgency fighting the transitional government in Somalia.
Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for twin suicide bombings that killed 79 people in Kampala in July. No clear link was found between the group and a 3 December blast caused by a similar Russian-made grenade in Eastleigh, in which one policeman died.
Mohamud dismissed as nonsense the perception that many Somalis in Eastleigh supported Al-Shabab, pointing out that the insurgency was the very reason many people had fled Somalia for Kenya.
Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe told IRIN the force had stepped up law enforcement with regard to illegal immigrants because there seemed to be a wave of increased arrivals from neighbouring countries.
"In the last two weeks alone, we have netted over 300 illegal immigrants and over 800 in the last three months," Kiraithe said. "In fact, there is no crackdown as such; this is just normal law enforcement, only that we have increased our efforts to protect the citizens against the threat of terrorism."
In Eastleigh, IRIN spoke to several Somali refugees who said they felt unfairly targeted whenever incidents such as the grenade explosion occurred.
Mohamud said it took about two to three days to be released from police custody even when a refugee was legal. "I don't see why someone should be arrested when they have documents; the police should let them go once they establish that they are in the country legally," he said.
Jama Osman, 37, a football coach who is also a human rights activist, told IRIN: "I have personal experience of these 'arrests'; it once happened as I went to Kenyatta National Hospital to seek treatment, I showed them [the police] my documents from UNHCR [the UN Refugee Agency] but they insisted I had no right to be in the country. They then took me to a side street and one of them held my neck tightly as the other one took all the valuables I had in my pockets. I was then released."
Osman said he later informed UNHCR and the Refugee Council of Kenya, a non-governmental advocacy group, but nothing came of it.
"For us now, we are living in fear of increased harassment and it does not matter whether one has papers or not, you will only be released once you have parted with some money," said Osman.
Somali elders in Eastleigh are arranging to contact the Kenyan government, through the Refugee Council of Kenya, seeking action over police harassment, Ali Mussa said.
Photo: Julius Mwelu/IRIN
|Police action has negatively affected business in Eastleigh, according to Mohammed Mohamoud Gutale, a member of the Eastleigh Business District Association (file photo)|
"As Somali elders, we would like to let the Kenyan government know that we are unhappy about the barbaric acts of some policemen," he said. "We would like to see the government take action on Somalis who have committed crimes but it is unfair to target only Somalis when attacks occur whose perpetrators are yet to be identified."
Blow to business
Mohammed Mohamoud Gutale, a member of the Eastleigh Business District Association, said the police action had negatively affected business.
"Nowadays, because of some of these crackdowns, Eastleigh has acquired a reputation of a place of lawlessness, an area with smugglers, money launderers and many other criminals," Gutale said. "This has put off many of our customers and affected business and the livelihoods of the people who live in Eastleigh."
Gutale said the business association had contact the Nairobi provincial police officer and the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Internal Security and presented their complaints, "but no further action has been taken".
On 10 December, two NGOs, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Kituo Cha Sheria - a centre for legal empowerment - expressed concern over the police's “indiscriminate” raiding homes of refugees and random arrests of those suspected of being in the country illegally.
Laban Osoro, legal advocate and coordinator with Kituo Cha Sheria, which partners with the IRC to aid urban refugees, said: "They are using the excuse of needing to verify documents to arrest people and keep them detained for longer. This is extremely worrying."