I have experienced many challenges living as a refugee in Nairobi for two years. The first challenge is security, which is not guaranteed. I live in Eastleigh, a small neighborhood that has become a Somali enclave. A series of explosions took place here after Kenyan troops entered Somalia.
This caused a reaction among Kenyans, who blamed Somali refugees. Although there is an increased police presence in the area, Somalis are afraid of the police because of the way that they behave towards them.
The police are corrupt, harass us, and ask for money. I was walking with a friend in January this year when two policemen in civilian dress stopped us on first avenue in Eastleigh. When they asked for ID, I showed them my refugee ID card provided by the Kenyan government. He glanced at it and handcuffed me. “I will charge you for possessing hashish and will take you to the court.”
He asked for 30,000 Kenyan shillings, which is over $300 – a great deal of money in Kenya. I couldn’t believe that they were serious. After some argument, they took 5,000 shillings and left smiling. This happens every day in Eastleigh; we are used to it now. They sometimes call us nicknames like “ATM,” as in ATM machines. There is always some ransom money in the pockets of Somali refugees.
With my refugee ID, it is impossible travel by bus to the northeastern regions of Kenya, where Somalis dominate, and then return to Nairobi. The police have checkpoints on the road; they check IDs. Refugee documents are useless or even dangerous. They put people in jail for carrying them. I don’t understand why the government has opened centers for refugees when their police arrest people for carrying a refugee ID.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Kenyan government gave us refugee papers, but no material assistance or legal protection. Obtaining documents from UNHCR and the government isn’t easy, involving long queues and waiting times. It took me eight months to get my documents.
Another challenge here is finding ways to build a life. Most Somali refugees depend on remittances from family members abroad to cover rent, food, and medicine. Jobs are given to a few people through nepotism and favoritism. The best job a refugee can get is to work for 12 hours a day in a shop.
Most young men are not going to school because education is expensive and difficult to access, especially for a refugee. Even with my secondary school certificate from Somalia, I have struggled to find a university place since 2011. Every university that I visit sends me to the National Examinations Council. They just keep telling me to come back in a month.
Many refugees are fed up with the queues and waiting and simply go without documents. The government shut down all of the urban registration centers here, and many of my friends who have not registered opted for returning to Somalia, fearing for their lives in Kenya. But despite these difficulties, giving up isn’t an option. I am a refugee in Kenya with all the necessary documents. I expect the host nation to protect my basic rights as a refugee.
Abdi Nur is a journalist from Somalia now living in Nairobi with his older brother. Both are refugees.