Why is Kenya Rounding Up their Somali Refugees?

There are no innocents in Kenya’s Somali community, according to the government. Men, women and children have been rounded up in a number of seemingly indiscriminate city-wide sweeps. Kenya, which has faced a wave of terrorist attacks in the past few months by the militant Somali group Al Shabaab, has been accused of indicting many of its Somali refugees, often fleeing significant social and sexual violence, on presumed guilt alone.

There is no doubt that Kenya is going through an incredible struggle against terrorism at the moment. After the terror of the Westgate Mall Attack, which left scores dead in a multi-day siege, bomb blasts have gone off at a near weekly basis in the nation’s capital, Nairobi. It is evident who is to blame. The terrorist group, Al Shabaab, has not only claimed responsibility for most of these attacks, but has threatened more to come.

Al Shabaab started as an independent terrorist group fighting for control of Somalia. They helped plunge the nation into chaos as they ruled and terrorized with impunity. Kidnapping, torture and thousands of murders have been linked to them. However, it wasn’t until African Union troops, made up primarily of soldiers from Uganda and Kenya went in, that Al Shabaab’s role in the Horn of Africa diminished significantly.

The current spate of terrorism has been called retribution for Kenya’s involvement in Somalia. And based on Kenya’s proximity to Somalia, it also sees some of the largest influxes of refugees, fleeing the instability and fighting. It is these refugees who are now seemingly under attack.

Officials in Nairobi have been documented making sweeping rounds around the city, going into shops, or door-to-door, picking up refugees, and bringing them to the capital’s stadium for documentation checks. While officials insist they are trying to ensure legitimate refugee papers in the most humane way possible, for many, the process is dehumanizing and confusing.

Many people are also being sent away from their homes in Nairobi and placed in camps in Northern Kenya. While refugee camps exist all over East Africa, most are set up in response to a crisis situation. These camps, however, are being set up in response to terrorism.

For those in the USA, it does mimic some of the techniques used during the internment of the Japanese during WWII. Somalis who live and work in Nairobi are being forced out of their homes, sent hundreds of miles north, and forced to live in tents. This is the so-called ‘answer’ to the terrorism problem.

Gerry Simpson of Human Rights Watch has stated, “Scapegoating and abusing Somalis for heinous attacks by unknown people is not going to protect Kenyans, Somalis or anyone else against more attacks”.

Furthermore, some of the techniques that have been documented have incredibly disturbing undercurrents. One statement, taken from bystanders watching the sweeps, put it succinctly: “If you have a beard or wear loose-fitting clothing associated with Muslims, you will be targeted.”

Some Somalis have been able to negotiate their stay in Nairobi through monetary or sexual bribery. Of course, this does put them in a situation where it’s likely they will be targeted and shaken down again and again. It also calls into question the legitimacy of the entire crackdown.

Forced deportation of documented refugees was deemed illegal by a 1951 convention. However, Kenya is likely able to get around this because so many refugees lack proper accreditation. Yet rather than stopping Al Shabaab, by deporting refugees back to the war-torn capital of Mogadishu, Kenya is perpetuating the chaos in which the Somali community must live, and quite frankly, creating a breeding ground of discontent.

Kenya has a legitimate concern regarding its safety and security. It has a right to feel threatened and afraid. However, rounding Somalis into sports arenas, with little sanitation and mass confusion, is not the way to handle it. Forcing them back to Mogadishu or into camps in the arid north is not going to quell terrorism.

As Howard Zinn once said, “How can you win a war on terrorism when the war itself is terrorism?”


Jim Ven
Jim Ven1 years ago

thanks for the article.

NO MORE FWD to Ana Marija
ANA MARIJA R3 years ago

Thank you for sharing and for some comments.

Donald B.
Donald B3 years ago

This was an informative story. I had no idea there was a refugee crisis happening in Kenya, though I admit my knowledge of events in Africa is quite limited.

Fox Mccloud
Fox Mccloud3 years ago

@ pam W.

What pirates? This myth has been going around ever since Somali Pirates first broke into the news. In 2013, the World Bank and Interpol has ruled out piracy cash for fuelling Kenya’s property boom. Somalis have been very successful commercially in Kenya years before Piracy off the Somali coast even began. The Somali dominated Eastleigh suburb (over 90% of businesses there are owned by ethnic Somalis) takes in approximately $100 million a month according to the Eastleigh Business Association while Somali piracy has only raked in around $400 million since 2004. Eastleigh is seen as one of the largest commercial centres in Kenya with buyers coming from as far as Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda to take advantage of the cheaper prices.

However, the myth that you espoused in your comment as well as other baseless claims are why there is so much suspicion on both Indigenous and refugee Somalis in Kenya. Because of this, many Somali businesses have suffered from lootings and break-ins from locals while the police come to extort and harass ethnic Somali men and women.

John W.
.3 years ago

Thank you for the information :-)

Laura Saxon
Past Member 3 years ago

Very sad. Thanks for sharing.

heather g.
heather g3 years ago

There are very few people who can actually imagine walking in the shoes of those refugees ...... in fact, very few of them possess shoes.
Women and children walking for hours and hours in the hot sun for days on end - often being attacked by security personnel and raped. There are thousands and thousands of displaced people running for their lives, and then being targeted again and again. Always on the move, with a small roll of possessions carried on their heads.
It is shameful that society turns their heads the other way....

Roxana Saez
Roxana Saez3 years ago

TYFS...this is disheartening news to read.

Charlene Rush
Charlene Rush3 years ago

POWER & CONTROL, often born out of 'fear', is the reason.
It never ends, as some group intends to make take over another.

Most of it, goes back to education.

Deborah W.
Deborah W3 years ago

THINK WE'LL EVER LEARN ... when we're fighting we're both losing, your scars are my scars, we all bleed red. Doubtful, but maybe, just maybe ... each day is branc new and full of endless possibilities.