Hungry and scared, I got up the courage to come out of our building in the morning to eat at a small restaurant on 8th Street in Eastleigh. What happened was so embarrassing. A Kenyan who was eating there immediately ran to the door and closed it before I came in. A few seconds later, the owner opened the door and told me, “Toka hapa” – “Leave here.” I walked back to my house starving.
This was the closest restaurant to our house. The Somali restaurants I sometimes visit were not open. Most of their owners and workers were spending their days in Pangani police station.
At the same time that the Kenyan government is ramping up pressure for Somali refugees to return home, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has released new international protection considerations for people fleeing southern and central Somalia. The guidelines highlight the continued risks that these people face and stress the need for ongoing international protection of Somali asylum-seekers.
I am sitting here in my room on a rainy Monday to write an essay about the challenges we as refugees face here in Nairobi. I just got back from school, and as I made my way home I held my breath until I reached my room. I am lucky I am here another day: safe and sound.
Fear was never so close to me in Nairobi than on September 21 of this year, when Al Shabab gunmen stormed the Westgate Mall. I was with some friends at the time in a small makeshift tea shop on a street in Eastleigh, where many Somalis live. Everyone in that area was going about their business.
When I first heard about the attack, I followed the news on radio and TV. My assumption was that what was happening in Westgate was a robbery, but everything instantly changed when it was announced that Somali Islamist group Al-Shabab was responsible. I froze in fear.
On Saturday, militants stormed the Westgate mall in downtown Nairobi, throwing grenades and executing shoppers and diners. The latest death toll stands at 67, but bodies are still being recovered from the damaged building so that number could rise.
It has been nearly a year since Somalia established a new federal government, ostensibly ending years of political transition. Some areas in Somalia are indeed experiencing increased stability and economic revival, but overall, a severe and complex humanitarian crisis continues and many challenges remain – especially for the country’s 1.1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs).
On Friday, the High Court of Kenya issued a landmark decision on refugee rights. The court struck down a December 2012 government directive that would have forced all refugees living in cities to relocate to camps and suspended all registration and support services for city-dwelling refugees and asylum-seekers.
In the United States, the green card signifies permanent resident status. Many people have to live and work in the U.S. for years, on temporary visas, before obtaining a green card. However, the Diversity Visa Program, known as "the green card lottery," gives 50,000 people from across the world the chance to relocate to the U.S.
I have experienced many challenges living as a refugee in Nairobi for two years. The first challenge is security, which is not guaranteed. I live in Eastleigh, a small neighborhood that has become a Somali enclave. A series of explosions took place here after Kenyan troops entered Somalia.
This caused a reaction among Kenyans, who blamed Somali refugees. Although there is an increased police presence in the area, Somalis are afraid of the police because of the way that they behave towards them.