On Friday, officials in Kenya indicating that Somali refugee camps were being used as a safe haven for Islamist militants, adding that the time had come for hundreds of thousands of refugees to go home. According to the country’s Interior Minister, Joseph Ole Lenku, “for many years, Kenya has been host to the largest refugee community in the world, we are host to almost 600,000 refugees. We have welcomed, with open arms, refugees fleeing from insecurity in neighboring countries,” adding that “some of these refugees have abused our hospitality and kindness to plan and launch terror attacks from the safety of the refugee camps. This cannot and should not be allowed to continue.” In the wake of last months attack on the Westgate shopping centre, a number of Kenyan officials have pointed the finger at Dadaab, a Somali refugee camp located in the northeastern region of the country which is home to over 4000,000 people who have fled instability in neighboring Somalia. According to these officials, the refugee camp has turned into a “training ground” for Somali extremists. While the Interior Minister did not indicate that the camp should be immediately lose, he did state that Somalia was “now experiencing relative peace” and that Kenya was now “working closely with the government of Somalia and UNCHR to ensure that the repatriation process is as smooth and humane as possible.” Meanwhile the Interior Minister has also confirmed that fifteen immigration officers had been fired in connection with an ongoing tightening of national security after last month’s attack in Nairobi. According to the minister, fifteen officers were fired for issuing “Kenyan identity documents to illegal immigrants thereby endangering national security.” The minister also vowed a complete audit of all identity cards and passports issues in the last years in order to “flush out those who have been issued with illegal passports and other identification documents.”
Meanwhile on Thursday, authorities in Kenya pledged to boost security for the Nairobi marathon, which is due to take place this Sunday. According to Nairobi deputy police chief Moses Ombati, “we have taken this function very seriously, putting into consideration all the threats we have in the country right now,” adding that “we don’t want a repeat of what happened at Westgate, which took all of us by surprise.” According to the police chief, “we have enhanced security right along the 42 kilometer (26 mile) route, both from the air and on the ground, with restrictions at all the key points. There will also be screening of all the participants.” Over 20,000 local and international athletes are expected to take part in the annual marathon race through the streets of the capital. With security forces on high alert, Nairobi is still reeling from the four-day siege on the upmarket Westgate shopping mall.
Two Spanish aid workers, who were kidnapped in Kenya nearly two years ago and held in neighbouring Somalia, have been freed according to their employer.
In a statement that was released by Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the organization confirmed that the two women are both “safe and healthy and keen to join their loved ones as soon as possible….Once again, MSF strongly condemns this attack on humanitarian workers who were in Dadaab offering life saving medical assistance to thousands of refugees.” MSF indicated that it would give any further details before a press conference which has been scheduled in Madrid on Friday.
Montserrat Serra (40) and Blanca Thiebaut (30) were kidnapped on 13 October 2011 by gunmen who opened fire on their vehicle inside the Dadaab refugee camp complex. Their Kenyan driver was shot and wounded. At the time of the kidnapping, Kenyan police had stated that they had been seized by members of Somalia’s Islamist al-Shabaab group, however no group has actually claimed responsibility for the kidnapping. Just days later, Kenya deployed its troops into neighbouring Somalia in order to fight al-Shabaab militants.
Dadaab, said to be the world’s largest refugee camp, houses some 500,000 people who have fled years of conflict and drought across the border in Somalia. MSF, which at the time of the kidnapping had 49 foreign and 343 local staff in Dadaab, has since reduced its activity there to a minimum. Both women were working as logisticians for MSF in Dadaab. Ms. Serra, a qualified teacher from Girona, Spain, had been working in Kenya for two months before she was kidnapped. She had previously worked on aid projects in Latin America and Yemen. Ms. Thiebaut, from Madrid, had recently completed a degree at the London School of Economics and is an agricultural engineer by training.
The abduction of the Spaniards followed the kidnapping of a French woman and a British woman from the Kenyan coast near the Somali border. Briton Judith Tebbut, in her late fifties, was seized from a remote Kenyan resort on 11 September 2011, by armed men who killed her husband David. She was released in March 2012 after being held for more than six months. A ransom was reportedly paid by her son. Marie Dedieu, 66 and partially paralyzed, was seized from her beachfront home in the Lamu archipelago on 1 October 2011. She was reported dead later that month, with French officials stating that the death was probably due to her having been deprived of essential medication by her kidnappers. On 25 October 2011, two aid workers with the Danish Refugee Council were seized by armed men in Galkayo in north-central Somalia. They were freed during a raid that was launched by US Commandos in January 2012. Meanwhile in January of this year, al-Shabaab fighters killed a French hostage, an intelligence agent known under the pseudonym Denis Allex who was held since 2009, during a botched rescue attempt by French forces. A colleague of Mr. Allex, who was kidnapped at the same time, managed to escape in August 2009. A Briton and Kenyan, who were employed by an Indian subcontractor of a UN agency and who were kidnapped in southern Somalia in 2008, are feared dead. While an American national kidnapped in January 2012 is still being held.
Meanwhile thirty-nine seamen of various nationalities from the Naham 3, a fishing vessel that was captured in March 2012, along with crew members from two other boats, are still being held in Somalia. The fate of a further fifteen crew members, whose vessel, the MV Albedo, sunk early last week, remains unknown.