The Al-Shabaab chose the easy target, ‘teachers and students’. The Kenyan government has decided to close the Dadaab refugee camps which host more than 350 thousand Somalis. The voice of the Catholic Church.
“The Al-Shabaab have alienated much of the Somali population, which is mainly Muslim, because of the massacres committed against other Muslims. This is why when the Shabaab in Kenya now attack a crowded place they discriminate between Muslims and Christians, saving the first and killing the second”, said Mgr. Joseph Alessandro, Coadjutor Bishop of Garissa. Here on Holy Thursday, April 2, 148 people were killed in the local university campus, in an attack committed by the Al-Shabaab who, according to some witnesses, chose their victims on the basis of their religious affiliation.
“This is one of the reasons why Christians in Kenya are being targeted, but there are also other factors. These terrorist attacks are in retaliation for the Kenyan army’s presence in Somalia: the troops have played an important role in forcing the Al-Shabaab out of important areas of the coast, disrupting the lucrative trade with which the fundamentalist movement is financed”, said the Bishop. “With these actions – continues the bishop – the Al-Shabaab hope to force Kenya to withdraw its troops from Somalia, allowing them to regain control of the coastal cities, including Mogadishu, in order to start taxing the population and restart their trades”.
By attacking universities, the Al-Shabaab aimed at hitting the hope of developing an area long ignored by the central government. “Students and teachers are easy targets. We can not forget that the border is very porous and people move from one side to the other easily”, concludes the Coadjutor Bishop of Garissa.
Kenyan bishops have also raised their voice strongly to condemn the massacre and called on the government for action: “We hope the Government will get to the bottom of this problem of terrorism and radicalization with a view to proactively stemming such incidents from recurring”, said the bishops in their message.
The assault was committed with the complicity of Kenyan citizens, a fact that is highlighted in the message. “It is saddening that many Kenyan youths are being radicalized to commit acts of terrorism against their fellow citizens. It is unfortunate that some terrorists are living among us, yet we are not reporting them to the relevant authorities”.
“While the Government is expected to provide security for all the people in all parts of the country, we observe that all of us have a responsibility to support the Government by being vigilant and providing information on any suspicious persons and items within our immediate environment”, said the message.
The bishops also ask the Ministry of Education to carefully vet all employees, “to ensure that they are not used to radicalize students and recruit them to join subversive groups”.
Finally the pastors urged all of the country’s religious leaders to desist from teaching and preaching hatred for people who do not subscribe to their religion and doctrines. “Everybody has an inalienable right to life and fundamental freedoms, especially to religious beliefs, and as such, they should not be perceived as nonbelievers”, the bishops said.
Meanwhile, the Coast Interfaith Council of Clerics Trust, a coalition of Christian, Muslim and Hindu leaders in Kenya, issued a statement denouncing the atrocity. “We condemn with the strongest terms possible this cowardly and heinous act by the terrorists who killed innocent students in Garissa University,” the statement said. “As religious leaders, we wish to send our heartfelt condolences to the families, friends and relatives of those who lost their lives. We pray that the almighty God will be with you during these trying moments and that he will give all of you comfort as you confront this tragedy.”
Observers of the continuing attacks instigated by Al-Shabaab militants note that some Islamic mosques, mainly in the country’s coastal city of Mombasa, have been accused of serving as recruitment and radicalization centres for Muslim youths.
Condemnation has also been directed at the Muslims who have carried out the attacks (both in Garissa and in previous incidents, including a recent attack in Mandera in northern Kenya), in which the killers have separated Christians from Muslims before murdering their non-Muslim victims.
Dadaab refugee camps to close
Among the measures taken by the government in Nairobi after the massacre, is the closure within three months of the five camps in Dadaab, opened in 1991 to accommodate 90,000 people and that has now become the largest refugee camp in the world, where today there are about 400,000 Somalis who fled the civil war that disrupts their country. According to the government of Nairobi, the structure contributes to insecurity in Kenya because inside there are hidden supporters of Al-Shabaab.
Mgr. Paul Darmanin, Bishop of Garissa, commenting on the announcement, by the Government of Kenya, said: “Now that there is a government in Somalia, it is good if the camp is closed and the people are allowed to return back home”.
Bishop Darmanin said he cannot rule out the link between the camp and terrorism, saying most of the Somali refugees inside the camp still maintained close links with relatives, friends and clansmen across the border in Somalia.
“While the closure of the camp may not end terror attacks, it will see a reduction in the channels for recruitments and planning of attacks”, said the bishop.
According to Mgr. Darmanin, the security situation in Somalia, although “not very good”, would allow a return of refugees because the recent attacks of the Al-Shabaab on Somali territory have targeted “government officials and institutions and not civilians”, said the Bishop of Garissa. “It is better if these people return home and get assistance from there”.
Meanwhile the United Nations refugee agency has urged Kenyan authorities to reconsider their decision to shut down the refugee camps within the next three months, a decision that would require some 350,000 Somalis to return to their country and would cause ‘extreme’ humanitarian consequences.
“Large-scale returns are still not possible in many parts of the country, in particular to South Central Somalia,” said Karin de Gruijl, spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. “Yet forcing refugees back to Somalia would have severe practical consequences, and would be a breach of Kenya’s international obligations. Kenya has hosted and protected refugees from violence and persecution in neighbouring Somalia for more than two decades”, she added.
“We are thus urging the Kenyan authorities to give the matter further consideration. UNHCR stands ready to work closely with the Government of Kenya to strengthen law enforcement at Dadaab and support other measures to protect refugees and Kenyans alike against possible intrusion by armed protagonists from across the border”, Ms. de Gruijl said. In December 2014, a pilot scheme was launched to support people who seek to voluntarily repatriate to one of three relatively safe areas of Somalia, namely Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayo. “We are ready to work with the Governments of Kenya and Somalia to step up this program where there are opportunities for voluntary repatriation”, the UNHCR said, reiterating its ongoing commitment to support Kenya in its protection of Somali refugees. Robert Kariuki