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Drought in Kenya drives girls as young as 12 to have sex for money

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Kate Lyons

Girls as young as 12 are being forced into having sex for money to feed their families in drought-hit parts of Kenya.

Families in rural areas of Turkana, one of the regions hardest hit by late rains, are sending their daughters to urban centres to make money. Many are forced to sell their bodies, earning as little as 50 Kenyan shillings (37p) for sex, according to a report published by the International Rescue Committee (IRC) on Wednesday.

The IRC also reported an increase in gender-based violence in the county, as well as a rise in instances of child marriage.

In early June, the IRC visited the red-light districts and areas where sex workers solicit in the town of Lodwar. In one night, case workers found 320 girls aged between 12 and 17 whom they believed were involved in transactional sex. Invited to a drop-in centre, 88 of the girls visited in the following days and confirmed that they had been driven to prostitution as a direct result of the drought and lack of food.

Mercy Lwambe, women’s empowerment coordinator for IRC Kenya, said all the 88 girls interviewed were originally from poor rural areas, the nearest of which was 50km away. The youngest girl interviewed was 12.

“They said, ‘Our families have lost all their livestock and don’t have any money,’ so they’re sending them away or they’re being married off,” said Lwambe.

Drought across Kenya has made 2.6 million people food insecure and has seen a five-fold increase in food prices, as well as conflict around water points and an increase in malnutrition and diseases. Regions in the north of the country are particularly badly affected. The UN has warned that some people could soon be a step away from famine.

Many men and boys have taken their livestock to neighbouring Uganda, leaving women, and in some cases young girls, alone to care for younger siblings and older relatives.

Many of the girls engaged in transactional sex are very vulnerable to abuse, violence and sexually transmitted infections, said Lwambe. “It’s overwhelming, particularly with the children, the desperation they go through.” She said children were often beaten by men or had money stolen from them.

Mary*, 24, started sex work as a way of feeding her family.

“I saw that is something that my family depends on,” said Mary. “The children are always disturbed because they are feeling hungry. It is not something good, but the need to care for these children is what forces me, because I don’t have anywhere else to run to.”

The IRC has also seen an increase in gender-based violence since December, particularly attacks on children who are left alone in their homes at night as the men are out of the country with the livestock and their mothers are working.

From January to June, the IRC received reports of 67 cases of rape of children aged nine to 16, an average of 11 per month. Before the drought they saw one or two cases a month.

In one case, a six-year-old girl was raped and beaten by a man with whom her mother was living in exchange for financial protection. After the girl was referred to the IRC’s Wellness Centre in Lodwar, the staff were able to assist her and identify the perpetrator, who is now in jail.

As well as providing care and support for the survivors of abuse, and reproductive healthcare, the IRC has been running education centres and job training in Lodwar since 2014. However funding cuts last year have led to staff reductions, and cuts to the number and scope of its programmes.

Diaspora

Sadistic people smuggler who raped and murdered migrants in Libyan desert sentenced to life in prison

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Telegraph — An Italian court has sentenced to life imprisonment a sadistic people smuggler who raped, tortured and murdered migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa.

Osman Matammud, 22, from Somalia, was found guilty of multiple counts of murder, abduction for ransom and sexual violence against young women and girls.

Matammud was arrested a year ago after being recognised by fellow Somalis in a migrant reception centre in Milan.

He was almost lynched before police stepped in and arrested him.

He had crossed the Mediterranean in a boat full of migrants and had tried to pass himself off as an asylum-seeker.

He was accused of the horrific abuse of migrants at a squalid detention camp at Bani Walid in the Libyan desert, 100 miles south-east of Tripoli, with prosecutors comparing him to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

During his trial in Milan, 17 witnesses told the court how they had been raped, beaten or tortured by Matammud. He will spend the first three years of his incarceration in solitary confinement.
He was sentenced after a five-hour deliberation by the Court of Assizes in Milan.

He had denied all the charges and his lawyer said he would appeal the verdict. His trial revealed the squalid conditions and violent abuse endured by migrants as they try to cross the Sahara on their way to the coast of Libya, from where they pay smugglers to send them in boats towards Italy.

“I’m not Somali, I’m not Muslim – I’m your boss,” he allegedly told migrants and refugees when they arrived at the camp.

Several Somali women told investigators in Italy that they had been repeatedly raped by Matammud, who is from Mogadishu. The violence was in part to exert pressure on their families to pay more money for their passage across the Mediterranean.

Matammud would allegedly place plastic bags on the backs of migrants and set them alight so that molten plastic blistered their skin.

One teenage girl told Milan prosecutors: “The first night, he came into the hangar, he grabbed me and he ripped off my clothes in front of everyone. He penetrated me. I fainted but when I came to, there was blood everywhere. I was raped many times by him – every night.”

“In a career spanning 40 years, I’ve never come across such horrors. And what is going on in Bani Walid is going on in all the transit camps,” said chief prosecutor Ilda Boccassini, who has spent much of her career fighting the Mafia.

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Human Rights

European Commission seeks to resettle 50,000 refugees

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The European Commission has unveiled a new plan that would allow for 50,000 refugees – mostly from a host of African countries – to be resettled to Europe over the next two years.

The proposal on Wednesday by the European Union’s executive branch involves admitting asylum seekers under the bloc’s resettlement programme, which was introduced at the height of a major refugee crisis in 2015.

“We need to open real alternatives to taking perilous irregular journeys,” European Union Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a news conference in Brussels.

The commission said that it had set aside 500 million euros ($590m) to support the resettlement effort. Member states will be free to participate in the scheme on a voluntary basis.

The EU’s executive arm said that while resettlement from Turkey and the Middle East is to continue, an increased focus should be put on resettling vulnerable people from Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia.

“Europe has to show that it is ready to share responsibility with third countries, notably in Africa. People who are in genuine need of protection should not risk their lives or depend on smugglers,” Avramopoulos said.

23,000 people resettled

Libya is the main jumping-off point for many people willing to brave potentially dangerous sea journeys across the Mediterranean in search of better lives in Europe. Egypt, Sudan, Chad and Niger – one of the main migrant transit countries in Africa – all border Libya.

Resettlement is managed by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which selects refugees who have a continued need for international protection.

European countries are individually responsible for deciding on resettlement numbers so they cannot be legally bound by Brussels to take more people in.

Last year, the main beneficiaries of UNHCR-facilitated resettlement programmes were refugees from Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Somalia.

The EU has already resettled 23,000 people from refugee camps in countries outside the EU under the scheme, mainly Turkey and Jordan, which were overwhelmed with people fleeing the war in Syria.

The resettlement programme is different from the EU’s compulsory refugee quotas, which involved moving asylum seekers who had already reached Italy and Greece to other EU countries.

The latter scheme, which ended on Wednesday, saw just 29,000 people out of a planned 160,000 shared out around EU states to ease the pressure on the overstretched Greek and Italian authorities.

The commission also said it wants to ensure that those not permitted to stay in Europe are returned to their home countries more quickly.

“We have to be clear and brutally honest, people who have no right to stay in Europe must be returned,” Avramopoulos said.

He also said that the commission would propose a temporary extension to allow countries such as Germany, Austria, Denmark and non-EU country Norway to keep systematic ID checks in place.

Schengen border controls

Separately, the EU also released plans on Wednesday to allow countries in the passport-free Schengen area to reintroduce border controls for security reasons for up to three years.

Countries in the 26-country Schengen travel area can currently reintroduce frontier checks for six months for security reasons, and two years if that is combined with a threat to borders.

“Under today’s proposals, member states will also be able to exceptionally prolong controls if the same threat persists,” the commission said in a statement.

Avramopoulos however said this should be a “last resort”, and that keeping the Schengen area open for travel should be a priority.

Several countries, including France and Germany, have called for the extension after a series of attacks. France reinstated the checks after the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Border checks introduced by Germany, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Norway in May 2016 to deal with a huge influx of refugees and migrants into Europe from Syria and North Africa are set to expire in November.

The reintroduction of so many checks raised concerns about the collapse of the Schengen zone, seen by many in Europe as a symbol of unity and freedom.

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Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s Refugees Unsafe in Kenya and Elsewhere

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“Wako” fled Ethiopia for Kenya in 2012, after his release from prison. He had been locked up for two years after campaigning for the Oromo People’s Congress, an opposition party that has often been targeted by the government.

In Kenya, he hoped to be safe. But six months later Ethiopian officials kidnapped him in Nairobi and brought him to Ethiopia’s notorious Ziway prison, where he was mistreated and tortured, before being released. He fled to Kenya a second time.

When I spoke to him in Kenya, he said he planned to travel overland to South Africa. He hoped for better safety there.

Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of harassment and threats against Ethiopian asylum seekers in Kenya and elsewhere since 2010. In a recent letter to the Kenyan police, to which they have not responded, we describe how asylum seekers were assaulted, detained, and interrogated before Ethiopian officials in Nairobi, and forced to return to Ethiopia. Many also received threatening phone calls and text messages from Kenyan and Ethiopian phone numbers.

In private, some Kenyan police told us that Ethiopian Embassy officials in Nairobi have offered them cash to arrest Ethiopians. Ethiopian refugees said Ethiopian officials tried to recruit them to inform on others, promising land, protection, money, and resettlement to the US or elsewhere.

Threats to fleeing Ethiopians are not limited to Kenya. Community leaders, social media activists, opposition politicians, and refugee protection workers have been harassed in other countries. Human Rights Watch has documented abductions of Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers from Uganda, Sudan, Djibouti, and elsewhere.

High-profile opposition figures with foreign citizenship have also been handed to Ethiopian authorities without a legal process, including a British citizen detained in Yemen, a Norwegian citizen in South Sudan, and a Somali national handed over last month by Somalia’s government.

In Somaliland, we recently spoke to 10 asylum seekers who were forced back to Ethiopia during one of the frequent roundups of Oromo in Somaliland. Eight said they were tortured upon their return to Ethiopia. Many described harassment from Ethiopian embassy officials and indifference from the UN refugee agency.

All this creates a climate of fear and mistrust amongst Ethiopian refugees, preventing them from living normal lives, going to working or even applying for asylum.

The UN refugee agency and host countries should work harder to ensure Ethiopians fleeing torture and persecution can safely access asylum processes and be safe from the long reach of Ethiopian officials.

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