allAfrica.com: Somalia: Forced to the Camps, Exiled Journalists' Lives Just Got Harder
If you venture into Eastleigh at night, an area in the capital with a large ethnic Somali population, you are walking into a ghost town. Residents are locking themselves inside their homes while police lorries are parked outside with roaming agents demanding IDs of anyone caught in their vicinity.
"We cannot go out," one exiled Somali journalist residing in Eastleigh said. "Last night more than four hundred Somali refugees were arrested." Exiled Somali journalists, among other ethnic communities, are scared. If police catch Somali journalists and deport them to the camps, their security is highly compromised.
It all started on March 25 when Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku issued a directive to all urban refugees in Kenya to relocate to two refugee camps, Dadaab and Kakuma. The press release was issued just days after suspected Somali militants attacked a church near the coastal city Mombasa that claimed six lives. "Any refugee found flouting this directive will be dealt with in accordance with the law," the press release stated, and asked Kenyans to report any cases of refugees outside the crowded camps to notify the police.
Most exiled Somali journalists in Nairobi fear the camps. The Dadaab refugee camp is rife with Al-Shabaab militants, local journalists and residents of Dadaab said; the very same militants Somali journalists fled their home country from in the first place. "No journalist can live there [Dadaab Camp] so many are choosing to return home and die in Somalia," said Ahmed*, an exiled Somali journalist working as a news editor in Eastleigh. Over the past five years, at least 22 journalists have been killed in Somalia's capital Mogadishu alone, according to research by the Committee to Protect Journalists. "These days Dadaab Camp is more dangerous than Mogadishu," Ahmed said.
Another exiled Somali journalist, Mohamed, who recently fled Dadaab Camp, concurs. Mohamed, who has worked for several international media outlets covering the camp, started getting threats from suspected Al-Shabaab agents while living in Dadaab. "It became too dangerous for me to remain there," Mohamed told me, "so I eventually fled to Nairobi. Now it looks like I'll be forced to return to the same life threats I just escaped from.".
There's another problem exiled Somali journalists will face in Dadaab: no room. Originally designed for 90,000 Somali refugees, the camp now has half a million, making it the largest refugee camp in the world, according to reports.
Further, Lenku's announcement may be illegal. Like awful déjà vu, the Kenyan government similarly ordered all urban refugees repatriated into the camps in December 2012 but a high court case challenged the constitutionality of the directive and blocked it. It is still unclear whether the new directive can be challenged under the same court hearing or a new legal challenge will be required.
But the Kenyan police, considered the most corrupt public institution in the country, have a tendency of ignoring laws. According to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, Lenku had issued the press statement on Tuesday, March 25, but is yet to deliver the official order to the relevant government departments. The UN agency is waiting for more details and clarification before reacting to the directive. Despite lacking the official go-ahead, police came to Eastleigh Tuesday night and arrested residents, local journalists said. It was a routine police practice all exiled Somali journalists are familiar with: police arrested residents demanding their IDs and then demanded bribes for their release.
Exiled Somali journalists are not the only ones scared of this week's developments. Exiled Ethiopian journalists are also terrified the forced relocation will endanger their lives. The camps, one exiled Ethiopian journalist said, are not safe due to heavy surveillance by Ethiopian intelligence and security officials. Another exiled Ethiopian scribe, Dawit, doubts the efficacy of Kenya's strategy to counter terrorism by suspected refugees. "This directive is labelling all refugees as criminals or terrorists, " Dawit said. And yet most refugees in Kenya are staunchly law-abiding citizens, fearing any recourse with the law will induce them to returning to the countries they fled from. "The Kenyan government should not put fuel on the problems they already have," Dawit said. "Instead they should work on routing out corruption within their own security department officials and systems to protect citizens in Kenya, refugees included."
All names changed to protect sources
Tom Rhodes is the East Africa Representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists.