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The supposed sanctuary of Kenyan refugee camps can’t protect Somali women from the horrors of a growing rape epidemic.
The three refugee camp sites built by the Kenyan government at Dadaab in northern Kenya were originally planned to house 90,000 people. However, a daily influx of over 1,400 Somalis escaping tremendous famine and sectarian violence has swelled the population to beyond 400,000 and helped contribute to a horrifying escalation in sexual assaults on Somali women and girls.
Specifically, the congested and undersupplied confines of Dadaab’s refugee camps have forced the newly arrived Somali women further from the safety of camp centers. Consequently, they have to make long treks for needed supplies and are thus prone to attacks from men hiding in the bushes along the isolated trails.
According to UN reports, there were 358 incidents of rape in Dadaab from January 2011 to June 2011, up from 75 during the same period in 2010. Unfortunately, those numbers are probably much higher, given the cultural stigma Somalis attach to victims of sexual violence, one where women live in fear of being ostracized by their families and communities.
The tragedy of it all is that these same women have been subjected to ongoing sexual assault from the onset of their journey from Somalia into Kenya. As one UN official said, many of them tell harrowing tales of being raped by militants of Somalia’s Islamist terror group al-Shabab, only to “cross the border on the way to the camps to Dadaab and be attacked and raped by bandits.”
While some assailants have been Kenyan gang members, other attackers appear to be Somali militiamen in the employ of Kenya’s government. These militiamen, hired to guard the Somali-Kenya border against al-Shabab, apparently are paid so infrequently, if at all, that they either sell their weapons for food or prey on refugees.
In one recently disturbing, but all too common, incident, militiamen from the Jubaland militia gang raped a 13-year old girl and her two sisters for two days before letting them go.
Unfortunately, Somali women and their daughters remain highly vulnerable to sexual assault of this kind from these and other marauders because they constitute the overwhelming majority of the Somali refugee stream. This disconcerting fact is a result of al-Shabab’s having killed either most of the males fleeing Somalia or having captured them to become recruits in its fight against the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG).
While the brutality of al-Shabab is well known and has been applied to both men and women, its assault on women has been even more devastating. A few examples of al-Shabab barbarity include charging young girls with adultery who refuse to enter into forced marriages and then stoning them to death, as well as beating or stoning to death girls and women accused of being raped.
As one UN worker said about life for women and girls under al-Shabab control, if they object to their treatment, “they’re basically killed just like their fathers were, so people are basically living in a state of complete terror.” So, now, having made the dangerous trek from Somalia into the supposed safety of Kenya, the reality remains that their nightmarish life continues on unabated.
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