As Kenyan authorities push ahead with a security crackdown — targeting terrorists and their alleged supporters — members of the Somali community are feeling increasingly unwelcome. Fed up with being the targets of raids and security sweeps in Kenya, some Somalis say they have had enough and have decided to come home.
Many built their lives, their businesses and raised their families in Kenya. Now they are packing up everything they can carry, ready for a fresh start.
While Kenya has deported some as illegal immigrants, countless others have decided to make the trip voluntarily.
Ifrah Osman has just returned with her daughter and baby son after six years in Nairobi. “I took [made] a decision after they knocked on my door at one o’clock in the morning. They knocked the door, they woke my baby up, so at that time, I made the decision to leave,” she said, adding that she’d had enough of constant police harassment.
Kenyan police have been seeking out illegal immigrants as part of anti-terror operations known as “Operation Usalama Watch.” Much of the focus has been on ethnic Somali areas like Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood.
Car bombings and other attacks blamed on the Somali militant group al-Shabab have prompted the operations. But Somali political leaders say the sweeps are unfairly targeting one community.
Somali Prime Minister Abdiweli Sheikh Ahmed Mohamed, concerned for Somali citizens, said the sweeps are only making the security situation worse. “Affecting innocent people will only help al-Shabab that will really psychologically traumatize people and that should be stopped. I think we need to have targeted operations where we are focusing on those terrorist groups,” she stated.
While still wracked with insecurity, Mogadishu is not the same city that many Somalis left behind years ago.
Businesses have started to return since al-Shabab lost control of its last Mogadishu strongholds in 2011, and Kenyan Somalis are joining others from the vast diaspora who have decided to come home.
Adnan Moahmed Abdalla went to Kenya as a refugee in 2006 to escape fighting in Somalia.
After he’d been detained numerous times and had to pay ever-increasing bribes, his friends bought him a plane ticket to Mogadishu. But he had to leave his family behind.
“I’ll stay here in my country now. But I am asking the international community to help me get my kids here. Kenya is not fighting against terrorism, they are fighting against Islam,” said Abdalla.
Kenyan police have denied reports of harassment or ethnic targeting, and said security operations will continue.
But as immigrants feel increasingly unwelcome, more may decide to give Somalia a second chance.