Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Kenyan crackdown cause for concern

Man waiting to immigrate hiding from police

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Ali Gabane escaped the civil war in Somalia, fled to Ethiopia and, for the past seven years, has waited in Kenya to join his older brother, who sponsored him, in Winnipeg.

Now he's one of the hunted.

In a massive security operation, Kenyan police have arrested thousands of Somalis in the capital, Nairobi, and are holding them in a stadium and at police stations.

Citing terror attacks by the Somalia-based Al-Shabaab, the Kenyan government has ordered Somali refugees into refugee camps or be deported.

"I'm worried about what the Kenyan government is doing right now," said Noor Gabane in Winnipeg, who, in 2007, sponsored his brother to come to Canada.

Ali Gabane, 42, passed all the medical tests, jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops and is just waiting for the visa that will allow him to come to Canada. He worked in a Nairobi restaurant to make ends meet, but now he's in hiding, said his brother in Winnipeg.

'I'm worried about what the Kenyan government is doing right now'

-- Somali refugee Noor Gabane applied to sponsor his brother, Ali, into Canada in 2007. He holds a news report about Kenyan authorities imprisoning Somali refugees.

"He's locked the door and is waiting," said Noor. "He's hiding from authority and scared to leave," he said.

He's not alone.

"It's open season on anybody who looks to be a refugee or a Somali," said Tom Denton, executive director of Hospitality House Refugee Ministry.

"It's absolutely terrible," he said after hearing troubling reports in the media and from families of refugees in Nairobi.

"It's awful. Police are asking people for passports then they take it and put it in their pocket and want money," said Denton.

The UN High Commission for Refugees reports detainees are being rounded up and held at various police stations and the Kasarani Stadium. Nairobi media have reported 1,000 people being held in the stadium are being denied access to basic health services, including three women who reportedly gave birth in the stadium.

The UNHCR has asked law enforcement agencies in Kenya "to uphold the rights of all those arrested and to treat them in a humane and non-discriminatory manner."

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights is investigating reports of violations including extortion, sexual harassment, theft and looting of homes and torture since the police sweeps started, according to an emailed statement.

"Combating terrorism through official terror only serves to foment further resentment, increase radicalization and fertilizes the breeding ground of future terrorists," it said.

A police station holding suspects, which was examined by Human Rights Watch, had overcrowded cells soiled with urine and excrement, the group said Friday in an emailed statement. People were kept in custody for more than the legally allowed 24 hours without charge, it said.

For now, Somali refugees in Kenya like Ali Gabane are lying low, said his brother Noor in Winnipeg.

"Nobody can move."

Ali was paralyzed with fear when his brother phoned him earlier this week.

"He said 'Don't call me! Maybe the soldiers can hear you.' " He's afraid of being locked up arbitrarily or sent back to the chaos in Somalia he fled 22 years ago, said Noor. He's afraid his younger brother will miss the call he's been waiting for from Citizenship and Immigration Canada's office in Nairobi.

That happened in 2011 when Ali was living in the massive Dadaab refugee camp outside of Nairobi. "He missed his interview because nobody sent the message," said Noor, who hasn't seen his brother in 20 years. Now, events beyond their control in Kenya may prevent them from being reunited, he said.

"I'd appreciate the (Canadian) government letting him get out of there."


-- with files from Bloomberg News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 12, 2014 A13

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