Somali refugees contend with Kenyan backlash Resentment rises as influx grows

September 04, 1992|By Knight-Ridder News Service

MOMBASA, Kenya -- Most fleeing Somalians simply walk across the border to rough, massive refugee camps in the arid wastes of northeast Kenya. But the lucky ones -- and those with a little money left -- climb aboard the dhows making their way south to Kenya's golden coast.

"Life here can be normal, almost good," said Salah Dorah, a former Mogadishu merchant. "But you must watch your money dwindle with fear."

And to add to their woes is a growing backlash of resentment among Kenyans.

"These Somalians are everywhere," said driver Khalid Walid as he pilots his truck through the Old City's narrow streets.

"Look, there are more of them over there. It is a problem. People are becoming angry, there are fights and many resentments. There is no room for them," he said.

Fleeing Somalians reaching Mombasa are met by the Kenyan authorities, their possessions and bona fides checked, and then they are taken to the burgeoning refugee settlements several miles away on the mainland, where they must jostle for space with the other refugees.

Similar encampments have been opened outside the other large Indian Ocean ports of Lamu and Malinidi -- as well as outside the capital of Nairobi, far inland, where some of the refugees have made their way in hopes of finding work.

"They are taken to these camps, but the problem is, they don't stay there," said central Mombasa shop clerk Valiji Jabbal. "They all come in here to the city and squat and hang around. There is much crime and a lot of bad feelings."

In Nairobi, clusters of Somalis sleeping in city parks were rounded up and forcibly transported to the refugee camps outside the capital after a number of local citizens complained.

In Mombasa, where visiting Somalis always have been a more common sight, a handful of nightclubs have sprung up to cater to their tastes.

Some of the big, fancy resorts on Mombasa's glittering north coast have been virtually taken over by the wealthiest of the Somali refugees.

Running battles have broken out between Kenyan-born prostitutes and newly arrived ones from Somalia. Dubbed the "whore wars" in the local press, these feuds have included black eyes, broken bones and even a few knife wounds.

"It is like anything else," said bartender Joseph Mambo.

"Something new appears on the market and the customers want to try it. But the Kenyan women, they do not want to give up any piece of their business."

A small group of Somali men was loitering on a pile of rocky rubble in an Old City courtyard, gazing with boredom at passersby.

"It took all of my money to get myself on the dhow," said Ahamed Odey, a former government worker in Mogadishu.

"Now what am I to do? Sit here until Somalia is put back together? That may never happen."

His friend, Ahmed Issa, scratched a geometric design into a nearby cement wall with a pointed piece of stone.

"In Mogadishu, I was a painter, but here there is no work, only surviving," he said.

"And the Kenyans, the ordinary people, they treat us badly, as though we had a disease."

Mr. Walid, the truck driver, who was standing close by, angrily snapped at him: "You are allowed to come here and share in our food. We could have made you stay back in Somalia, where you slaughter each other."

A Mombasa merchant, Jaswant Bamrah, echoed Mr. Walid's sentiment.

"These Somalians, they are not grateful," Mr. Bamrah said. "We give them a chance to survive and they complain all the time. Some of them rob us and they crowd into our streets."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.