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Somali refugees turned into Twitter scapegoats after Kenya terror attack

Monday, July 02, 2012
By Katy Migiro

It's no secret that the Somali community in Kenya is often treated with resentment and suspicion by their hosts.

You only need to listen to your average Nairobian complaining about how "they" are driving up property prices with their "pirate money" to get a taste of the thinly disguised xenophobia that exists among many Kenyans.

But relations hit a new low this week when the spokesman of President Mwai Kibaki's party took to Twitter to start a campaign to move Somali refugees back to Somalia in violation of international law.

As Kenya reels from its worst terrorist attack in years, Moses Kuria of the Party for National Unity is trying to get the hashtag #MoveDadaabtoKismayo trending by sending tweets to an array of politicians, including Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague.

"Please support this cause. It will help the UK policy in the Horn of Africa," he told Hague.

Kenya's Dadaab camp is home to almost 500,000 refugees, most of whom have fled war in neighbouring Somalia. Kuria's hashtag is suggesting that they be moved to Kismayo, a port town in Somalia which is controlled by al Shabaab militants.

Kuria's Twitter campaign emerged after 17 people were killed on Sunday in a twin attack on two churches in Garissa, the north Kenya town which has been used as a base for Kenyan operations against the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab.

The militants have been waging an insurgency against Somalia's fragile interim government since 2007.

In October, Kenya sent troops into Somalia after a spate of kidnappings by al Shabaab, several of which targeted foreign aid workers in Dadaab, most recently on Friday.

Since then, Kenya has suffered a series of grenade attacks in Nairobi, Mombasa and northern towns.

Kuria, who has been referring to Dadaab as a "holiday camp" where "terrorists roam freely", appears to be blaming the refugees.

"National suicide is not an international obligation. To protect ourselves and our families, tag #MoveDadaabtoKismayo. Let's be safe now!!!" he posted.

"By moving the camps to where they belong, we tell Somalis that their peace not at the expense of ours," he tweeted. "If their hobby is killing they do it inside Somalia," he continued.


Some tweeters supported Kuria.

"Tunawasaidia na wanakuja kutushambulia (We help them and they come to attack us)," said Rebizz Rhonnie in Kiswahili.

"If the govt will not take action, pple wil do it. We can't feed pple who r killing us," tweeted Bidan Macharia, who describes himself as a "God fearing man".

Others were more critical.

"Why punish poor refugees because of a few terrorists?" asked Ole Laibuta, an advocate of the high court.

Another lawyer, Betty Murungi, accused tweeps of "xenophobic attacks", pointing out that the refugees in Dadaab "live in mortal danger in these camps".

She also highlighted their right to non refoulement – the principle of international law that prohibits the return of refugees to a place where their life or liberty would be at stake.

I wonder if Kuria has ever been to Dadaab?

If he had, he would realise that only 20 percent of the camp's population are men.

The majority are children, growing up in an open prison, with few opportunities for education or a life beyond that. It is not a fate you would wish on any child.

Secondly, most of those who have been arrested for the recent attacks in Kenya are Kenyan, not Somali.

Analysts say that al Shabaab is gaining in popularity in Kenya and mentoring a multi-ethnic generation of militants across the region. Last July, a United Nations investigation found al Shabaab had created extensive funding, recruiting and training networks in Kenya.

On a flight to Dadaab last year to see the impact of the Somali famine on refugees fleeing to Kenya, I asked a spokesman for the UN's refugee agency about his work.

He surprised me by saying that his most important trip had not been highlighting such horrors.

Instead, it had been taking a Kenyan cartoonist, comedian and musician to meet some refugees. After their trip, the artists produced work which aimed to reduce prejudice against refugees.

Perhaps the U.N. should take Kuria on a similar sensitisation trip?


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