Somali refugees escaped Kakuma for Nairobi
Somali sisters became urban refugees in the capital Nairobi after fleeing 'targeted rapes and sexual violence' in Kenya's second-largest refugee camp, KakumaElsa Buchanan/IBTimes UK

Sexual violence and targeted persecution has forced dozens of young Somali refugees to flee Kenya's second-largest refugee camp, Kakuma, for the capital Nairobi, where they can now expect police harassment and abuse instead of safety.

IBTimes UK has investigated claims of a number of rapes at the Kakuma camp, with Somali girls and women targeted. Asked to comment on the allegations and reports of killings and rapes, one of the UN's refugee agency heads of a sub-office in Kakuma said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was aware of "targeted incidents".

According to numerous reports, since mid-April between eight and 12 rapes have been reported by refugees. It was also alleged that these occurred in the middle of the night and were carried out by "people who are not refugees".

This surge in sexual violence has pushed many families to send their daughters illegally to Nairobi after bribing officials within the camp's vicinity and later, at checkpoints.

Indeed, refugees in Kenya can only legally travel if they are in possession of a movement pass, which was formerly provided by the now-disbanded Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA).

Sending daughters after 'violence, raping and killing started'

A Somali father in his sixties, who has lived in the camp since 2009, told IBTimes UK how he had agreed to send four of his daughters to the capital to protect them from sexual violence.

"Three of my daughters have finished education. They didn't have another occupation to do, so they went away to Nairobi, but my mind is not at rest. They left when the violence, raping and killing started here – even the youngest one who still had to finish her schooling followed them. They thought they would find an opportunity in Nairobi, and asked me to let them go," he said.

Somali father sent his daughters to Nairobi
The sisters' father, a Somali refugee living in Kakuma, opted to illegally send his daughters to Nairobi to protect them from sexual violence in KakumaElsa Buchanan/IBTimes UK

Speaking in their small room in a squalid apartment in Eastleigh, the predominantly Somali district in Nairobi, the four girls aged 15 to 22 told IBTimes UK how they fled the camp two months ago. While they agreed to tell their story, the sisters asked to have their names changed to protect their identities.

Born in the Somali capital Mogadishu, the girls walked for 30 days to flee Somalia for Kenya in 2008 after a rocket landed on their home, killing their two-year-old twin sisters. They were transferred from Dadaab to Kakuma refugee camp after one year.

Salima, in her late teens, explained: "It was not safe for us there, because when you are a girl you are raped, and your life becomes shattered. If you lose your dignity, you have nothing. After we did our exam, we saw the situation was getting worse. Our father didn't even want us to stand outside our home, so no one would know there were girls inside. An older boy in our home would go fetch water or vegetables instead of us."

Somali refugees escaped Kakuma for Nairobi
Fearful of arbitrary arrests, extortion and harassment, the sisters who asked to remain anonymous spend everyday in their room, which has only two mattresses for furnitureElsa Buchanan/IBTimes UK

Her sister, Amina, said that a "very serious incident" happened near their house, prompting their escape to seek safety. "That's why we got shocked and decided to go very urgently," she explained.

Many other girls have left Kakuma, Amina said, saying she had already spotted five of her schoolmates in Nairobi. "Almost everyone we went to school with is here: when we leave our house we can see school friends. They will tell you the same story, that they ran away from Kakuma. If you are girl in Kakuma, you run."

Somali refugees escaped Kakuma for Nairobi
One of the sisters, who agreed to pose for a picture under the condition her face remained hidden, spoke of the difficulties young female refugees face living alone in NairobiElsa Buchanan/IBTimes UK

Facing deportation, not protection

While the girls thought they would find protection and safety in Nairobi, they claim they now face deportation if caught by police.

This follows comments from a spokesman for the Kenyan Interior Ministry on 20 June, at the UNHCR World Refugee Day event, during which he announced Kenya would no longer host refugees, describing camps as a "breeding ground" for terrorism.

During his speech, Joseph Nkaissery told urban refugees the government "further ask[s] all refugees residing in urban centres to move to their designated camps to avoid conflicts with the law," despite there being no official law banning refugees from residing in urban areas.

The direct threat to refugees in Nairobi – many of whom have resided in urban areas for years and have done all they can to obtain the necessary documents to allow them to stay. Following the DRA disbanding, however, the documentation process has been made increasingly difficult to navigate, and there have been increasing reports of harassment, arbitrary arrest and extortion following the directive.

The sisters have found themselves unable to move around Eastleight, let alone Nairobi. They now spend their days on mattresses placed on the floor of their bare room.

"Somalis are not allowed to move. If we did, there would be an arbitrary arrest: they will arrest you and say you are AS if you don't have a Kenyan ID. If you are arrested you need to have something in the pocket [bribes] of between KSH10,000 (£78, €90) and KSH30,000. We cannot pay this. So it is compulsory for us to stay in the room," Salima explained.

Somali refugees escaped Kakuma for Nairobi
The sisters share a flat with other Somali urban refugees who claim they now face the threat of deportation back to wartorn SomaliaElsa Buchanan/IBTimes UK

At the mercy of men and pervasive sexual violence

Without documents and unable to work, the sisters are relying on the mercy of a male relative, who they imply may be asking for favours in return for his financial assistance with rent and food. Their family cannot support them, they said, as their parents are now in debt after having to pay the girls' KSH4,000-each bus transportation as well as KSH2,000 in bribes for each of them.

"A distant relative, who says he wants to marry me, is assisting me," Safia, the eldest sister, said. Her younger sister added: "He said he would get married to one of us, otherwise he would not continue paying. He wants [my sister], that is the condition."

Asked what would reassure them, the girls called on the police to stop "arresting people wrongly", as Salima recalled how she hid under a bed when police officers "invaded Somalis" house she was visiting after asking for IDs. "We feel they are hunting people," she said.

Somali refugees escaped Kakuma for Nairobi
The sisters pace around their single room, next to two suitcases, in which lay all their belongingsElsa Buchanan/IBTimes UK

"We are not Al-Shabaab, we are just civilians. You should arrest someone with a strong reason, not just someone passing by," her sister Amina added. The young girl said she and her sisters would be targeted for being seen as "too Western" – having grown up in Kenya, educated in a Western schooling system, and become fluent English and Swahili speakers. "When you lived here and you are educated, Al-Shahaab think you are not a Muslim and slaughter you."

The young girl added: "We also want to tell the Kenyan government not to be like Al-Shabaab: if you refuse someone his life, you not different from Al-Shabaab. The fear we have for the Kenyan police is the same as the one we have for Al-Shabaab; you fear you will be arrested the same way you feel a bomb will explode."

These violations echo the infamous 'Usalama Watch' counter-terrorism operation that began in June 2014, during which thousands of Kenya's Somali community were subjected to arbitrary arrest, harassment, extortion, ill-treatment, forcible relocation and expulsion.