Contentious hotline leaves Kenya on the verge of xenophobia

September 20, 2018 11:04 am16 comments

from MARIA MACHARIA in Nairobi, Kenya
NAIROBI, (CAJ News) – A controversial move by Kenya to address its immigration crisis – through a hotline number encouraging locals to report undocumented foreign nationals – has sparked fears of xenophobia and left the country violating its own constitution and international obligations.

Late in August, the Immigration Department set up a hotline number for Kenyan citizens to report irregular migrants in their neighbourhoods.

Majority such migrants and refugees flocking into Kenya are South Sudanese, Somalis and Congolese escaping conflict from their respective countries.

The hotline is a follow-up to a 60-day process Kenyan authorities initiated in May to verify work permits held by foreigners in the East African country.

It is also in response to an order by Fred Matiang’i, the Cabinet Secretary, on the Immigration Department and security forces to arrest, detain and deport all irregular migrants by November 30.

This has culminated in a crackdown on undocumented migrant workers that have seen homes raided and hundreds of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers arrested around the East African country.

Law enforcers have picked scores of people from homes and even in places of worship following raids in the capital Nairobi and its environs, including Rongai, Mwiki, Pangani, Ngong, Kasarani and Githurai, as well as in other towns such as Bungoma, Nyeri, Eldoret and Nakuru.

Those found without documents have been detained.

Human rights groups report that people from the conflict torn countries including Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Somalia and South Sudan have been largely affected.

Worryingly, some foreign nationals, including students, with valid documents have also been affected.

Amnesty International warned the detention of refugees and asylum-seekers with a view to deport them back to their country of origin was against Kenya’s own constitution and its global responsibilities on how to treat these vulnerable members of society.

Seif Magango, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, said the exercise by authorities was unacceptable and the hotline approach was likely to ignite xenophobia against foreign workers, refugees and asylum seekers.

“It is extremely worrying that citizens are being encouraged to call a hotline to report cases of suspected undocumented migrants,” said Magango.

“This hotline should be immediately shut down. All those arrested in the crackdown should have their detention reviewed before a tribunal, to verify whether it is lawful, necessary and proportionate.”

Kenya is under pressure to release the refugees and asylum seekers arrested in the crackdown.

“The Kenyan government must stop hounding people who have fled war and persecution in their home countries, but instead protect them. They must not be forced to return to countries where they would be at risk of harm.”

The National Police Service has insisted the crackdown would continue, despite outcry by human rights groups.

“In supporting the concerned agencies to enforce immigration laws, police wish to advise foreign nationals that they must always carry their necessary identification documents for inspection,” the law enforcement agency stated.

Police said foreign nationals must produce the documents “if and when” law enforcement and other relevant agencies required them.

Matiang’i, earlier said all illegal migrants and refugees would be “flushed out.”

Kenya, East Africa’s biggest economy, has blamed illegal immigration for years of attacks by the Islamist Al-Shabaab group.

The insurgents, based in Somalia, are waging a violent campaign against the neighbouring country, in protests of its troops’ presence in a peacekeeping mission in Somalia.

Refugees from Somalia continue entering Kenya despite the latter closing its border five years ago at the height of the terrorism.
– CAJ News


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