NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The United Nations has yet to access more than 1,000 Somalis who have been arrested in an anti-terrorist operation in Nairobi, the majority held in a stadium that some have dubbed a “concentration camp”.
On April 2, the police started arresting people without identity documents in the 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 Somali militant group al Shabaab on Kenyan soil, including a deadly assault on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in September.
United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) staff are visiting various police stations to monitor the treatment of those arrested. But they have not been able to visit all of the holding and detention facilities.
“We are seeking access to them to determine the numbers and determine the conditions,” UNHCR’s country representative Raouf Mazou told Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Mazou said people are being held in “a number of locations outside of Eastleigh” and that some refugees have been allowed to return home after being vetted.
The round-up has caused an outcry on Twitter, with some using the hashtags #Kasaraniconcentrationcamp, referring to Kasarani sports stadium where most of the suspects are being held, and #JusticeforEastleigh.
“Placing thousands of innocent Somalis in a concentration camp will ‘rid Kenya of terrorism’? This is repulsive,” tweeted Deqa.
Another twitter user, Halima Hillow, tweeted that a woman gave birth inside Kasarani and the baby died. It has not been possible to verify such statements.
Kenya hosts some 500,000 Somali refugees following the collapse of the Horn of Africa nation into civil war in 1991. Most live in overcrowded camps on its northern border but many run businesses or attend schools in Nairobi and other major towns.
Some of those arrested appeared in court on Monday.
“Those who don’t have IDs (identity cards) are being charged with being unlawfully present,” said Grace Omweri, a programme officer with the charity Kituo cha Sheria, which is representing some of those arraigned in court.
“And then we have those who are being charged for residing outside designated areas without authority.”
Kenya has a large ethnic Somali population of its own which has also been caught up in the current crackdown and previous ones.
“Kenyan Somalis are NOT terrorists. It is insulting to justify the profiling of an entire community as 'terrorists',” tweeted Gitobu Imanyara, a prominent lawyer and former parliamentarian.
“We must demand that the government immediately halt this misguided policy of illegal community punishment.”
In 2012, the Kenyan government ordered some 100,000 refugees living in urban areas to relocate to camps, leading to a “10-week rampage” in Eastleigh, during which the police tortured and abused more than 1,000 Somalis and Somali Kenyans, Human Rights Watch said.
Kenyan security officials believe militants have used the refugee camps as bases to prepare attacks and then mingled with residents in urban areas to carry them out.
On March 25 this year, the government again ordered all refugees into camps, citing "emergency security challenges". It urged Kenyans to report refugees or illegal immigrants found outside the camps.
The High Court later blocked the 2012 order following a challenge from Kituo cha Sheria.
The group said it is planning to go to court again.
“We have already prepared the documents,” said Omweri. “The action would be in contempt of the court decision.”
One human rights worker who declined to give his name said security was tight in Eastleigh on Monday.
“There is a sense of terror,” he said. “Police are just arresting everybody, as long as you are Somali, whether you are Kenyan or not. The Somalis feel they are being targeted and they feel they have nobody to stand up for them.”