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Kenyan police beat and extort Somalis fleeing war: Human Rights Watch

Kenyan police are using violence and intimidation to extort money from Somalis trying to flee their war-torn nation and reach the large refugee camps across the Kenyan border.

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Kenyan police are using violence and intimidation to extort money from Somalis trying to flee their war-torn nation and reach the large refugee camps across the Kenyan border, a rights watchdog said today.

Kenya's police rejected reports they were abusing those fleeing from fighting in Somalia. A brutal three-year insurgency in the failed African nation has caused what the United Nations calls one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

Since 2007, the fighting took the lives of 21,000 and more than 1.5 million have fled their homes. More than 5,00,000 Somalis have crossed into neighbouring countries, many hoping to reach Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps.

But according to Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a report released today, Somalis seeking safety must first get past abusive Kenyan police trying to take what little they have left.

"People fleeing the mayhem in Somalia, the vast majority women and children, are welcomed to Kenya with rape, whippings, beatings, detention, extortion, and summary deportation," said Gerry Simpson, HRW researcher and one of the report's authors.

The report, "Welcome to Kenya: Police Abuse of Somali Refugees", which is based on interviews with refugees, said an organised police extortion racket along some 200 km of the border was targeting desperate Somalis at their most vulnerable.

"In early 2010 alone, hundreds, and possibly thousands, of Somalis unable to pay extortion demands were sent back to Somalia, in flagrant violation of Kenyan and international law," HRW said in a statement attached to the report.

"Police use violence, arbitrary arrest, unlawful detention in inhuman and degrading conditions, threats of deportation, and wrongful prosecution for "unlawful presence" to extort money ... In some cases, police also rape women," the statement said.

In 2007, Kenya officially closed its border with Somalia, citing the threat from weapons and narcotics traffickers, as well as the heavily armed militias allied to Somali warlords.

"The fact that they extort Somalis to pay their way through checkpoints and out of custody suggests more concern for lining their pockets than protecting their borders," Simpson said.

HRW said an estimated 40,000 Somalis crossed Kenya's officially closed border near the camps in the first four months of 2010.

Kenya's deputy police spokesman, Charles Owino, said that authorities were surprised by the accusations as none of the cases in the report had been passed on to the police for investigation.

"The Kenyan government has formed a committee to investigate the allegations raised (by HRW) and it will soon commence its work," said Owino, who added that the Kenyan government was already handling the largest number of refugees in the region.

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