Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sister of city woman out of huge refugee camp

Seized without son in Kenya

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Tinbit Eyassu (pictured) says her sister, Gelila, is 'fine but sick, after a stint in a hot refugee camp in Kenya.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Tinbit Eyassu (pictured) says her sister, Gelila, is 'fine but sick, after a stint in a hot refugee camp in Kenya.

A mom who left her toddler with a neighbour while she ran an errand and was shipped off to the world's largest refugee camp has escaped.

"I'm so happy but still I'm worried," said Tinbit Eyassu in Winnipeg, whose sister, Gelila, was scooped up by Kenyan security forces in Nairobi in early May and shipped off to a refugee camp in Dadaab near the Somali border.

Her sister is back now with her little boy, but both are sick and virtually prisoners in their Nairobi home.

Gelila Eyassu, who has family in Canada including a husband in Calgary trying to sponsor her, had done nothing wrong and was living legally in Nairobi. She was on her way to pay a bill when she was arrested and interred at Dadaab under the Kenyan government's anti-terrorist crackdown called Usalama Watch.

Usalama -- the word is Swahili for safety -- is targeting terrorists, but security forces are scooping up refugees and many Africans in Nairobi who don't look Kenyan, even if they have legal documents allowing them to be there.

Kenya, a former British colony, has experienced a series of terrorist attacks since 2011. Last year, the Somalia-based militant group Al-Shabaab was responsible for the bloodbath at Westgate Mall in upscale Nairobi, Kenya's capital. Al-Shabaab struck again last month, claiming responsibility for killing at least 49 people in raids on hotels and a police station.

Eritrean-born Eyassu is one of hundreds who've been sent to refugee camps or, if they were Somali, back to Somalia.

When Kenyan security forces picked up Eyassu, she was not given a chance to get her son or make arrangements for the little boy. She ended up a day's drive away in the massive refugee camp in northeast Kenya 100 kilometres from the Somali border. She was with a group of Congolese parishioners who were taken from Sunday services in Nairobi -- including nursing mothers whose babies were at home with older siblings. They were warned not to openly hold Christian worship services in Dadaab because of the threat posed by Al-Shabaab and extremist Muslim groups.

When a Free Press reporter spoke to Eyassu last month at the refugee transit centre in Dadaab, Eyassu was desperate to be reunited with her three-year-old boy, Amen, who she said was sick.

Her sister in Winnipeg said Eyassu escaped from Dadaab June 16. She reportedly had a harrowing journey hiding in a truck back to Nairobi but has not been able to talk about it.

"She's fine but sick," said Tinbit Eyassu. Her sister has breathing problems after spending more than a month in the hot, windy desert refugee camp. "She's happy but her son, too, is sick." The little boy has tonsillitis, said his aunt in Winnipeg.

Her husband in Calgary has a lawyer who applied to the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration to let Eyassu and Amen come to Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds. Those applications can take more than two years to complete. For now, Eyassu is ill and like a prisoner in her own home in Nairobi, her sister said.

"She's scared to go to the hospital." Her sister is afraid of leaving the house and getting shipped back to Dadaab again, she said.

"They took her picture and fingerprinted her" in Dadaab, her sister said.

"She's really scared."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 30, 2014 0

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