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Kenya police accused of abusing Somali refugees

NAIROBI — Kenyan police abused and extorted money from Somali refugees after attacks in the capital believed to have been carried out by the Somali militant group Al Shabab, an international human rights group said Wednesday.

The Human Rights Watch report, covering mid-November to late January, also said that police arbitrarily arrested more than 1,000 asylum seekers.

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Kenya was hit by a string of grenade attacks last year in Nairobi’s Eastleigh area, which is highly populated by Somali immigrants. Al Shabab vowed to carry out attacks on Kenya because it sent troops into Somalia in 2011 to fight the rebels.

A Nov. 18 attack that killed nine people after an improvised explosive device tore through a minibus had also sparked riots and xenophobic attacks against the Somali population in the neighborhood. Police blamed the explosion on Al Shabab.

The rights group said police used the attacks and a government order to relocate urban refugees to camps as an excuse.

“Refugees told us how hundreds of Kenyan police unleashed 10 weeks of hell on communities close to the heart of Nairobi, torturing, abusing, and stealing from some of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable people,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher for Human Rights Watch and author of the report.

Police spokesman Masoud Mwinyi could not be reached.

Police abuses against refugees in ­Kenya are not new, ­Human Rights Watch said.

In 2009, 2010, and 2012, Human Rights Watch said it reported on Kenyan security force abuses and other forms of violence against the population in the predominantly Somali-inhabited North Eastern region, including the Dadaab refugee camps sheltering almost half a million mostly Somali refugees.

“Abuses documented in this report are extremely similar to abuses documented in previous reports. In terms of abuses on Somali refugees and Somalis it seems to be business as usual,” Simpson said.

Human Rights Watch called for investigations on the police chief and criticized the UN for not speaking out against the alleged abuse of asylum seekers.

A history of rights abuses, impunity, and a culture of corruption led to the agitation for police reforms in Kenya.

A bribe-taking culture exists in the force and officers live in deplorable conditions, are poorly paid, under-equipped, and understaffed, former police spokesman Eric Kiraithe admitted last year.

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