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500 more arrested in Eastleigh swoop

At least 500 people were on Saturday arrested in the city as police unfurled a major security dragnet.

The joint daytime swoop led by County Deputy Police Commander Moses Ombati and which involved door-to-door searches in Eastleigh area resulted in at least 500 people being taken into custody. 

In Eastleigh, armed police drove into the busy shopping centre in black and dark green trucks in the morning and immediately started rounding up those who could not prove they were either Kenyans or are legally in the country.

It was one of the largest operations launched to flush illegal immigrants from the area.

The officers were drawn from the General Service Unit, the Administration and Regular police, and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations.

People with UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) cards, those with passports deemed fake, those without a BCG vaccination scar and those who could not speak a word or two in Kiswahili or English were all bundled into police lorries.

Door to door search

At 10 am police entered a four-storey building off 12th Avenue and found six men sound asleep on mattresses on the floor. The room was painted blue, and a calendar with a baby photo hung on a wall. Clothes hung from a line strung between two nails. 

One of the men in a yellow Arsenal replica jersey continued sleeping as the police went round the room. The men, probably in their mid-20s, could speak neither English nor Kiswahili, and police has to use sign language. They had no identification documents and they too, were bundled into the lorry.

The building next door had six occupants—three women and three men. Four had genuine IDs and two had waiting cards. But just as police were about to leave the house, they noticed two others hiding under the mattresses. They, too, boarded the waiting lorry.

Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo on Saturday evening said his team will also probe the issuance of identification documents, saying even unqualified people have IDs.

“We will also target those who issued the identification documents illegally and those involved in human trafficking,” he said.

The latest swoop, dubbed Operation Usalama Watch, was meant to respond to last week’s terror attacks in Mombasa and Nairobi, in which 12 people were killed.

The three explosions in Eastleigh last week marked the 37th terror incidents since the Kenya Defence Forces entered Somalia in 2011 in pursuit of al-Shaabab.

At least 170 people have been killed, with al-Shabaab claiming responsibility for 25 of those incidents. 

Interior Secretary Joseph ole Lenku insists there will be conditional protection for refugees.

“The government is taking seriously the need for proper management of refugees. Kenya will continue with her world renowned hospitality policy towards refugees. This hospitality, however, cannot come at the expense of our security,” he said.

“For avoidance of doubt, I have gazetted Dadaab and Kakuma as the only legally recognised refugee camps in Kenya. In line with my directive last week, the process of mopping up refugees from urban areas has commenced in earnest.”
Together, the two camps already host more than 600,000 refugees.

“The operation is ongoing in Nairobi, Mombasa and other counties. This national operation will continue until every Kenyan is safe, and we are not relenting,” Mr Kimaiyo said on Saturday, insisting there will be a 24-hour surveillance at the country’s vital installations.

“I urge those holding illegal firearms to take advantage of the President’s two-week amnesty and surrender them. Criminals and terrorists will not have a place in this country, and they better surrender.”

There was mixed reaction to the police swoop in Eastleigh.

“We support the police in weeding out those people who do not have proper papers; unfortunately, some of the officers have turned this into extortion. Our business people are afraid of opening shops for fear of harassment,” Mr Hassan Gulled, the chairman for the Eastleigh Business Community said.

“The police know these bad people better than you and I. But I know these bad people do not hang out on the streets. We agree with efforts to boost security, but breaking into people’s homes is unacceptable,” he added.

He also criticised police for failing to involve local leaders in the operation.

Peter Simiyu, who works at the restaurant blown up last week is happy with the security swoop.

“Today I decided to carry my ID because I knew I won’t have problems with it. I think this police presence will help remove the terrorists. They blew us up last week, but I think it is important that the police do their work,” he said.

The eatery has already been renovated and yesterday it was business as usual. His views were supported by Paul Odhiambo, a cobbler operating opposite the restaurant. However, other residents gave it a conditional approval.

“This operation will help make this place safer. The police should take away those who do not belong here and take them to the camps or their countries. But we don’t want the police to come at night because they use darkness to beat women and children,” said Ali Hussein, a truck driver.

“We know there are people here who are bad and police should work hard until they are removed,” added Abdi Ahmed, a clothes dealer.

One woman pretended to be breastfeeding but after further interrogation, she admitted the baby was not hers. When the police took her in together with two other men, a group followed protesting and demanding that they be released. Their plea fell on deaf ears.

“They treated me like a foreigner. A policeman told me I looked like a person from Mogadishu. We don’t want this kind of harassment,” lamented a granny who identified herself as Markala Mohamed.

We could not verify these claims, but Mr Kimaiyo insisted the police are under instructions to remain professional.

“I wish, on the same breath, to warn few officers who will be caught receiving and giving bribes during operation will face the law,” he said.

The hot afternoon sun briefly slowed down the police activities and officers could be seen in groups of fours or fives walking leisurely on the streets, chatting.

Others sat in kiosks to have lunch, but as the evening approached, more trucks with more police moved in. It wasn’t going to stop.