An elderly Somali woman sits outside a kitchen in the Hagadera sector of the Dadaab refugee camp, north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi. Photo: Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images
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What it’s like to be a Somali refugee in Kenya

Hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees have fled Al-Shabab across the border. But in Kenya, they face racial profiling, police searches and the constant threat of repatriation.

Mohamed Haji Hasan fled his home in Mogadishu four years ago, after the Islamist group Al-Shabab came to the office of the television station where he worked. They confiscated equipment and gave staff a stark choice: join us, or die. For a while he stayed on, lying low, but the text message threats became more frequent; the news of colleagues being shot dead too hard to ignore. He fled to Kenya, the neighbouring country, and sought asylum.

When I met him last year, he was living in the capital city Nairobi and working as a journalist for a Somali-language radio station. But all was not well. “I came here to get free, to get life. But everything has changed. The Kenyan government says that Al Shabab elements are present in Eastleigh [a Somali slum in Nairobi], the same element we ran away from. We don’t know where else to go.”

There is no doubt that Al-Shabab is active in Kenya. Perhaps the most high profile incident was the three day siege of the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi in September 2013, which left more than 175 people dead. More recently, in April this year, gunmen stormed the Garissa University College, not far from Kenya’s border with Somalia, and killed 147 students.

These horrendous attacks shocked Kenya and the world. They have had far-reaching implications – not least on Kenya’s large population of Somali refugees. After the Westgate attack, a crackdown began. Thousands of Somalis were rounded up, arrested, and some even deported to Mogadishu. After the Garissa attack, the situation has been little better. President Uhuru Kenyatta threatened to expel all Somali refugees from the country within three months. He vowed to close Dadaab, which as one of the world’s largest and oldest refugee camps is home to more than 350,000 Somalis. Government officials said that Dadaab was a breeding ground for Al-Shabab. Meanwhile, Eastleigh was, yet again, subject to an intense search operation.

For the residents of Eastleigh, this is nothing new. When I met Mohamed in May last year, he said he had been searched 8 times that month alone. His colleague, Said Hassan Anteno, who had lived in Kenya for five years, had a similar story to tell. “Sometimes you can’t get to work freely because of the checkpoints. It used to be a business hub, but now it’s a military frontline. Police intimidation is part of our daily life. When they see Somali person, they assume that you are illegal. I have paid a lot of money in bribes. They don’t accept that I am legal, even though I have a refugee card. They say it’s fake and demand money.”

Under pressure from the UN, Kenyatta has now pulled back from the threat of forced repatriations for Somalis, some of whom have lived in Kenya for decades. But Somali refugees are still under enormous pressure. According to Refugees International, the two initiatives – a clamp down on Dadaab and the security operation in Nairobi – has opened the door to increased levels of “abuse, extortion, and harassment of refugees by the Kenyan police”. This affects every aspect of life; Somali residents describe being unable to board buses if they have large bags, as they are deemed a security threat. As Said and Mohamed described, police regularly stop them and demand ID, and then ask for bribes. Houses in Somali areas are raided at all times of day or night.

This crackdown, which according to most analysts and anecdotal reports is based more on racial profiling than any meaningful intelligence, has also affected Kenyan citizens of Somali descent. Abdirisak Osman was born in Nairobi to Somali parents, and has a Kenyan passport. “I was born and bred in Kenya. I’m a Kenyan, but just because of my look, my appearance, I get the same treatment, even if I produce my ID or speak Swahili. It’s profiling the Somalis. How can I be patriotic when I am treated like this?”

All of these men, like many other Somali refugees in Nairobi and elsewhere in Kenya, have the legal right to be in the country, yet find themselves vilified by the media and harassed by the police. “Eastleigh has become a hunting zone,” said Abdirisak. “Every predator is coming here to seek bribes.”

This harsh treatment comes despite the fact that security experts say that there is no evidence linking either Dadaab or refugees more generally to Al-Shabab. “This is collective punishment,” said Mohamed. Kenya is home to rising religious tension and longstanding ethnic rivalries; it is against this backdrop that the vilification of Somalis has become so prevalent. It is difficult to see the continued scapegoating of this community as anything other than a government desperate to detract attention from its inability to protect citizens by scapegoating the other.

“We Somalis are the most victimised people in this world,” Said told me last year. “Al-Shabab, they kill us, back home and here. At the same time, we are being accused of being Al-Shabab. We want to stay here, but it’s tough. Kenya was Plan A, but I think we need to find Plan B, because we cannot live like this. We cannot survive.”

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Supreme Court gives MPs a vote on Brexit – but who are the real winners?

The Supreme Court ruled that Parliament must have a say in starting the process of Brexit. But this may be a hollow victory for Labour. 

The Supreme Court has ruled by a majority of 8 to 3 that the government cannot trigger Article 50 without an Act of Parliament, as leaving the European Union represents a change of a source of UK law, and a loss of rights by UK citizens, which can only be authorised by the legislature, not the executive. (You can read the full judgement here).

But crucially, they have unanimously ruled that the devolved parliaments do not need to vote before the government triggers Article 50.

Which as far as Brexit is concerned, doesn't change very much. There is a comfortable majority to trigger Article 50 in both Houses of Parliament. It will highlight Labour's agonies over just how to navigate the Brexit vote and to keep its coalition together, but as long as Brexit is top of the agenda, that will be the case.

And don't think that Brexit will vanish any time soon. As one senior Liberal Democrat pointed out, "it took Greenland three years to leave - and all they had to talk about was fish". We will be disentangling ourselves from the European Union for years, and very possibly for decades. Labour's Brexit problem has a long  way yet to run.

While the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will not be able to stop or delay Brexit, that their rights have been unanimously ruled against will be a boon to Sinn Féin in the elections in March, and a longterm asset to the SNP as well. The most important part of all this: that the ruling will be seen in some parts of Northern Ireland as an unpicking of the Good Friday Agreement. That issue hasn't gone away, you know. 

But it's Theresa May who today's judgement really tells you something about. She could very easily have shrugged off the High Court's judgement as one of those things and passed Article 50 through the Houses of Parliament by now. (Not least because the High Court judgement didn't weaken the powers of the executive or require the devolved legislatures, both of which she risked by carrying on the fight.)

If you take one thing from that, take this: the narrative that the PM is indecisive or cautious has more than a few holes in it. Just ask George Osborne, Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan and Ed Vaizey: most party leaders would have refrained from purging an entire faction overnight, but not May.

Far from being risk-averse, the PM is prone to a fight. And in this case, she's merely suffered delay, rather than disaster. But it may be that far from being undone by caution, it will be her hotblooded streak that brings about the end of Theresa May.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.