NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The Kenyan government denied on Tuesday it was targeting ethnic Somalis in an anti-terrorist operation that has resulted in 4,000 arrests.
Most of the detained are being held in a stadium in Kenya's capital Nairobi that some have dubbed a "concentration camp" where they have had no access to help, according to lawyers, aid organisations and rights groups.
"There is nothing like targeting (of) Somalis," cabinet secretary for the interior Joseph ole Lenku said on television on Monday night, adding that more than 4,000 people have been arrested.
"The mop up of criminals is going on across the entire county of Nairobi and Mombasa, and will spread across the entire country to remove either illegal aliens or criminals in our country," he said.
Kenyan police started arresting people without identity documents in the capital's Somali-dominated suburb of Eastleigh following a blast in the area on March 31 which killed six people.
Somalis have faced an increasingly hostile environment in Kenya following a string of attacks by the militant group al Shabaab, based in neighbouring Somalia, on Kenyan soil, including a deadly assault on Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall in September.
FOOD AND WATER
Officials from the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, have expressed concern over the lack of access to those being held in Kasarani sports stadium, saying many of them are likely to be Somali refugees and asylum seekers from Eastleigh.
"We are unable to confirm [the numbers detained]," Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, UNHCR spokeswoman, said in an email, adding that it was more reason for the refugee agency "to access the detained".
Ole Lenku said the government was providing food and water to those in detention.
"There's no humanitarian crisis," he said. "We have facilities to hold those numbers. We have even providers of services, whether food or water, all those, that the country has contracted to provide."
Grace Omweri, a programme officer with the charity Kituo cha Sheria, which provides legal aid to refugees said that about 80 people appeared in court on Monday but none were from Kasarani.
On Tuesday, a group of Ethiopians were brought to court but they could not make a plea because they didn't have an Amharic interpreter, she added.
Lawyers from Kituo cha Sheria have been unable to enter Kasarani stadium, Omweri said.
"We are trying to get access," Omweri said. "There isn't much you can do if (the authorities) are holding them there and they don’t bring them to court."
Police spokesman Masoud Mwinyi denied the police were obstructing access to the detainees.
"We are not locking out any agencies or anybody from the screening exercise at the Kasarani sports complex," Mwinyi told a press conference on Tuesday. "The suspects arrested during the exercise are screened at the sports centre and later they are booked at police station."
He said over 3,000 suspects have been screened with 447 being held for further interrogation and 69 taken to court to answer various charges.
(Additional reporting by Humphrey Malalo in Nairobi and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva)