Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- Kenyan police appear to be using the 28 November terror attacks on Israeli tourists in Mombassa to justify a crackdown on refugees living in Nairobi, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) charged Friday.
It said in a release that since 29 November, the Kenyan police "have conducted three large raids and dozens of arbitrary arrests against refugees from Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo in several neighbourhoods of Nairobi".
"In the largest group arrest on 29 November at approximately 8:00 PM, 20 Kenyan police officers began house-to-house arrests in Kawangware, a so-called slum neighbourhood to the south-west of Nairobi.
"More than 50 refugees were arrested, and some described being beaten during the arrests.
All were pushed into two waiting trucks, among them Sudanese and Congolese refugees, including children.
Several other refugees avoided arrest by paying bribes to the police," HRW added.
It said among those arrested were two Congolese refugee women with UNHCR-issued documents granting them permission to remain in Nairobi for security reasons.
HRW said the women were waiting for resettlement to a third country, which was necessary because they were judged to be in danger in Kenya.
"Refugees in Kenya are often at risk because of potential violence from criminal elements.
It turns out they are also under threat from the Kenyan police who should be protecting refugees, not abusing them.
"Refugees are also vulnerable to violence at the hands of 'security' agents from their home countries," said Alison Parker, a refugee expert and author of HRW's recent report on abuses against refugees living in Nairobi and Kampala.
The rights group said all 54 Sudanese and Congolese refugees arrested in the latest raids by Kenyan police "spent the night in a 40-by-30 metre cell at the Muthangari station in Nairobi".
It quoted a UN refugee agency (UNHCR) official who visited the station as saying the "conditions were deplorable," with one Congolese refugee woman arrested along with her child, while eight other children were detained along with their mothers.
"The recent round of arrests is just the latest example where the Kenyan police have committed rights violations against refugees," HRW charged.
It said police at the Muthangari station told UNHCR officials that the Mombassa crimes were the rationale for the crackdown, but the authorities have made no official link between the Mombassa attacks and this group of detained refugees in Nairobi.
HRW said "no refugee was charged with criminal acts or terrorist-related activities".
"Acts of violence, however terrible, never justify a government roundup of refugees.
Kenya will not help improve its international image by scape-goating marginal groups such as refugees," Parker said.
HRW said that similar crackdowns against refugees occurred in September 1998, in October 2001, twice in February 2001, and in May 2002.
In the aftermath of the Mombassa attacks and in the run-up to Kenya's elections later this month, it called on the Kenyan police "to stop arbitrarily arresting and detaining refugees and otherwise violating their human rights".