Monday, March 30, 2009

Human Rights Watch says that Kenyan police abuse Somali refugees

Human Rights Watch has issued a new report that details abuse of Somali refugees at the hands of Kenyan police.

Somalis flee their country due to the war between an Islamic led insurgency against the Somalian government. A large refugee camp holds 250,000 people just inside the Kenya's boarder, with thousands more trying to arrive every day.

Instead of safety, Human Rights Watch says that Kenyan police forcibly deport the people seeking asylum.

The website for Human Rights Watch has the full report available for download, as well as a slideshow with photos of the refugee camps.

From his Reuters article, writer Richard Lough details some of the claims in the report.

Human Rights Watch spoke to dozens of refugees and documented cases of corrupt police officials routinely demanding cash from Somalis as they arrived or left the camps for other parts of Kenya.

The Kenyan government closed its porous desert frontier with Somalia in January 2007 after the United States helped push the Islamic Courts group out of power. The United Nations and aid agencies denounced the move at the time as a violation of human rights.

HRW said in its report that it recognized Kenya's legitimate security concerns. But it said the closure had failed to stem the influx of tens of thousands of refugees and instead had given rise to the proliferation of people-smuggling groups.

Although asylum seekers are paying smugglers up to $500 to ensure they reached Dadaab safely, police corruption was so endemic that the fee did not guarantee safe passage, it added.

"Emboldened by the power over refugees that the border closure has given them, Kenyan police detain the new arrivals, seek bribes -- sometimes using threats and violence including sexual violence -- and deport back to Somalia those unable to pay," the report said.

HRW accused the Kenyan authorities of forcibly returning hundreds, perhaps thousands, of asylum seekers and refugees across the border in a direct breach of international law.

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