After decades of war punctuated by drought and famine, signs have emerged in recent years that Somalia may be heading toward a more peaceful and prosperous future. The terrorist group Al Shabab has been driven out of the capital and other areas (although attacks and assassinations are still a regular occurrence), a federal government has been elected and – despite limited capacity – assumed the reins of power, and economic projects are being planned and implemented.
Four months ago, the Kenyan government launched a major crackdown against Somali refugees living in urban areas that involved mass arrests, extortion, and even deportations back to Somalia. This week, my colleague, Alice Thomas, and I are traveling to Kenya to assess the deteriorating situation for those refugees.
Little Mogadishu has been under siege for more than four weeks. Half of the Somali population here is either in Kasarani camp (a makeshift camp set-up at a football stadium 10 kilometers outside of Eastleigh), has been deported back to Mogadishu, or sent to the Dadaab or Kakuma refugee camps. The remaining half, including my brother and I, are forced to stay indoors for our own safety. We can’t go out for food, water, and medicine.
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.
Just a few years ago, the countries of the European Union (EU) thought they were finally getting control over the flow of refugees and asylum seekers across their borders. Having peaked at 670,000 in 1992, the number of asylum applications submitted in the EU fell rapidly in successive years, slumping to just 200,000 in 2006.
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.