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Somali-Kenyans Face Hurdles Obtaining Identification Cards

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Ahmed Daud Hassan, a Somali-Kenyan from north-eastern Kenya's Dadaab district, says he waited more than 27 years to receive his national identification card before finally giving up.

Hassan, 52, said he stopped trying after numerous attempts to obtain the document failed, even though it has caused problems for his five children as well.

"Four of my children are past 18 years old and they cannot get an identification card either," he told Sabahi. "It is a requirement that to get an identification card, one must produce their parents' identification card."

"They all did well in high school but they cannot progress with further education because they do not have identification to allow them to even venture out of Dadaab district," he said.

Hassan said his freedom of movement was restricted and he cannot rightfully own any property or vote without an identification card.

Complicating matters, Somali residents of Dadaab district often are confused with Somali refugees who live in the local refugee camp complex.

"No one believes us that we are Kenyans; that makes us feel like refugees in our own country. In my life I have never left Dadaab," Hassan said.

It is difficult and risky to travel outside the district without an ID, even to seek medical attention, said 46-year-old Farhiya Mohammed Hussein.

"This is like our little prison," she told Sabahi. "Those who travel without identifications cards risk arbitrary arrests and convictions for being in the country illegally, yet they are Kenyans."

"I did very well in high school but I could not go to university because I was branded a foreigner," she said.

After failing to get an ID card, Hussein got married and had four children, forgoing higher education. "Unless something changes, even if [ethnic Somali students] perform well in school, they will be just like me."

District residents plan to organise a demonstration after Ramadan to press for the speedy issuance of identification cards for locals, Hussein said.

Government taking precautions

The government is taking precautions in issuing identification cards because Somali-Kenyans and Somali nationals are a homogeneous community, according to Dadaab District Officer Bernard ole Kipury.

The government has created ID card vetting committees in every village in the region to scrutinise applicants carefully, he said.

"The committees comprise government officers, the registrar of persons, intelligence officials and community leaders who help identify that applicants indeed belong to the community," he said.

Under normal circumstances, processing identification cards takes at most three months, Kipury told Sabahi, but it can take longer in the north-eastern region because of security concerns in Dadaab and the surrounding area.

Some applicants will not receive identification cards if cross-checking with refugee databases confirms that they previously registered as refugees, he said.

Kipury said vetting committees in the north-eastern region were underfunded compared with other regions, and he also acknowledged that some have been disbanded because of corruption allegations.

"On some occasions, residents have reported that some of the committee members engage in unethical practices like receiving bribes from foreigners to get the document," he said. "Whenever we establish illegal issuance of the cards, the process is stopped to facilitate investigations and [form] new committees."

The committees' work, nonetheless, is vital in helping to safeguard the north-eastern region, he said.

Somali-Kenyans are 'basically stateless'

According to lawmaker Aden Keynan Wehliye, who represents the Eldas constituency, thousands of area residents have no identification cards, a perennial problem that has grown worse because of suspected al-Shabaab infiltration.

"Since Kenya sent its military to Somalia, the government has been suspicious of issuing identification cards on suspicion that the crucial document will fall [into the hands of] criminal elements posing as Kenyans to commit criminal acts," he told Sabahi.

Regional leaders have repeatedly asked the government not to use the refugee and security pretexts to deny lawful residents identification cards, Wehliye said, but government promises of making it easier for north-eastern Kenyan residents to obtain identification cards have yet to be fulfilled.

The north-east is the only region of Kenya where national ID applicants have to undergo rigorous security procedures, Wehliye said. Applicants must show their parents' and grandparents' identification cards, and sometimes interviewers ask them to speak in Swahili, he said.

"It is more difficult for those living in and around the Dadaab refugee camps to be recognised by their own government and issued with identification cards," he said.

"Most of the residents in the region lack identity. They are basically stateless," Wehliye said. "They cannot register as Kenyans and they cannot even register as refugees. It is a predicament, which I personally will bring to the attention of parliament soon to find a long-term solution."


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