NAIROBI, Kenya (AA) – When a series of terror attacks hit Kenya in 2014, the government launched a security operation aimed at unmasking terror cells and sympathizers in Kenya.
The operation saw some 4,000 ethnic Somalis detained in the capital Nairobi, leading to an outcry from human rights activists.
“I was arrested just because I am an ethnic Somali, despite being a Kenyan citizen. I was detained at the Kasarani detention camp,” said Saadiq Mohamed, 21, a professional Kenyan-Somali footballer, recalling the 2014 crackdown.
Mohamed was reportedly arrested in his neighborhood for not having his ID on him.
Kenya has been threatened by the Somali militant group al-Shabaab since sending troops into Somalia in 2011.
The crackdown targeted Somali refugees living in Nairobi’s Eastleigh district, but some Kenyan-ethnic Somalis were also caught up in the operation and detained by their own government.
The Kenyan-Somali population was over two million in the 2010 census making it the sixth largest ethnic group in Kenya.
Somali refugees and nationals on the other hand are estimated to be about half a million, according to the United Nations.
Kenyan-Somalis make up almost a third of the population in the northeastern region, an area that has remained marginalized for years.
Kenya suspended the issuance of national IDs in the ethnic Somali region of the country to put a stop to the alleged illegal registration of Somali refugees as Kenyan citizens.
“We know our government is concerned about criminal elements from Somalia acquiring Kenyan IDs, but doing this at the expense of its citizens is uncalled for and is against their rights as citizens of Kenya,” said Mohamed Nurdin, a Kenyan-Somali human rights activist.
The process is even more stringent when a Kenyan-Somali applies for a Kenyan passport.
“We cannot take any chances. That is why the process is strict,” said Daniel Ochuodho, a senior official at the Kenyan Ministry of Immigration. “It should not be mistaken that we are profiling the Somali community. Kenya is at war.”
Kenya declared war on al-Shabaab in 2011 and the al-Qaeda-linked group vowed to launch attacks on Kenyan soil in response, unless the East African country pulls its troops out of Somalia.
The worst attack from the group came in April when gunmen stormed a Kenyan university campus and killed 147 students. The assailants, like in previous attacks, targeted non-Somalis.
“Al-Shabaab had killed some 59 non-Somali or non-Muslim teachers and quarry workers before the campus attack. It is clear the group’s intention is to divide Kenyans on religious grounds,” Kenyan analyst Rashid Ronald told Anadolu Agency. “Such killings have consequently put the lives of ethnic Somalis in danger, especially those living in other parts of the country where they are a minority.”
During his visit to Kenya in July, U.S. President Barack Obama said Kenya had to change its tactics in dealing with its Somali and Muslim citizens if it is to succeed in its war on terror. Obama, whose father was a Kenyan Muslim, called on Kenya to respect Muslim rights.
Following the university attacks in Garissa, Kenyan-Somalis and Somalia nationals were yet again in the eye of the storm.
A number of Kenyan-Somali men were arrested and others went missing.
Somali-owned money transfer banks were banned pending investigation, bringing all financial activities of the majority of the Somali businesses to a standstill.
“Profiling my community is an excuse to blame us for the government’s failure,” said 34-year-old trader Abdiaziz Guled. “It feels like I am [a] second-class citizen in my own country.”
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