MOMBASA, Kenya – Kenya deported more than 100 people from 19 countries to lawless Somalia after they crossed the border between the two countries illegally during fighting earlier this year, and the deportees were subsequently arrested by Ethiopian troops, a human rights group said Friday.
The Kenyan government denied the men and women refugee status and even sent its own citizens back to face an uncertain future in a country with no functioning legal system, said the chairman of Muslim Human Rights, Al-Amin Kimathi. Ethiopian forces fighting inside Somalia then took the suspects and flew them to two detention centers inside Ethiopia, he added.
Kimathi said he had received unconfirmed information that three of the deportees had died while in Ethiopian custody and expressed deep concern about a Tunisian woman who is reportedly eight months pregnant.
A U.S. citizen was among those sent to Ethiopia, where human rights groups say torture is routinely practiced. Somalis, Kenyans, Tunisians, Yemenis and Saudis made up the majority of the suspects, Kimathi said.
"We are very concerned about the welfare of these people," he said. Kenyan and Ethiopian officials have declined to comment. Kimathi said his group based its information on flight manifests and official information.
Ethiopia sent troops into Somalia in December to protect the internationally backed government, which was under attack by Islamic militants. Hundreds of people fled to neighboring Kenya, where they were arrested.
While four Britons were sent home and ultimately released, the American was sent back to Somalia and later transferred to Ethiopia. Amir Mohamed Meshal, 24, is in an Ethiopian jail pending a hearing to determine his status, the State Department said Thursday.
U.S. authorities, speaking in Washington, said Meshal is not a threat, has violated no U.S. law and did not fight for the Somali Islamists, some of whom are accused of having links to Usama bin Laden's Al Qaeda network. They have furiously objected to the circumstances behind his presence in Ethiopia, a steadfast U.S. counterterrorism ally.
The State Department says Meshal was held for nearly a month in an Addis Ababa jail before U.S. diplomats were finally able to see him on Wednesday.
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said a formal complaint had been made to the government of Kenya over the deportation.
Earlier, however, the U.S. Ambassador to Kenya and Somalia, Michael Ranneberger, defended the Kenyan deportations.
"The Kenyans have carried out security operations based on their own security interests but also based on the request of the (Somali) government to interdict and apprehend terrorists. This has meant specifically the apprehension of a number of terrorists and extremists who have tried to cross the Kenyan border," he said at a news conference on Wednesday. "We would strongly praise the degree of Kenyan cooperation on security issues, as well as this is very important on the overall political process in Somalia."
Kenyan Muslim activists, who have close cultural ties to Somalia, had threatened to disrupt the World Cross Country Championships to be held Saturday in Mombasa to protest the deportation of Kenyan citizens. But they called off the demonstrations after the U.S. Embassy issued a terror alert that cited the Muslim community's plans.