A global human rights group said on Thursday that Kenyan police are raping, beating and arbitrarily deporting Somali refugees fleeing the chaos in their country.
Human Rights Watch said some Kenyan government officials have also fueled the police abuses with anti-Somali rhetoric. Kenya hosts the largest number of Somali refugees in the world.
"People fleeing the mayhem in Somalia, the vast majority women and children, are welcomed to Kenya with rape, whippings, beatings, detention, extortion, and summary deportation," said Gerry Simpson, refugee researcher for Human Rights Watch and principal author of Thursday's report.
The Kenyan Cabinet minister in charge of the police said the government will investigate the allegations.
"Any unlawful action that may have been taken by a police officer is not a reflection of government policy," said George Saitoti, Kenya's Minister of State for Internal Security, in a May 5 letter to Human Rights Watch after seeing a summary of the report.
The report is based on interviews in March with more than 100 refugees. It includes the testimony of a mother of four children who said that her pleas for mercy were ignored by two police officers who gang-raped her with her 12-day-old baby nearby. "One of them kicked me on the right side. I fell over with my baby. Then he raped me, with my baby on the ground close by. Then one of the other two men raped me. The third man stood close by," said the mother, who entered Kenya with her children in February.
The report argues that the "organized nature of the police's extortion racket and abuses" is the direct result of Kenya's three-year closure of its border with Somalia.
The border was closed in January 2007 to prevent Islamists fleeing Somalia from entering. But the closure also has blocked many refugees, forcing tens of thousands of Somalis to use smuggling networks to cross into Kenya.
Before its closure, Somalis sought asylum at a border town, where the U.N.'s refugee agency transported them to a sprawling, dirty collection of camps about 50 miles (80 kilometers) away. The three camps were built to hold 90,000 refugees but as of May, they had 320,000 asylum seekers.
Somalia has been plagued by fighting and humanitarian suffering for nearly two decades since warlords overthrew longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other. The weak Somali government controls only a small bit of the capital, Mogadishu, and is battling Islamic insurgents. The lawlessness has allowed the piracy trade to flourish off Somalia's coastline and some 3.7 million people _ nearly half of the population _ need aid.