Alshabaab amnesty program raises suspicion in Lamu

Pandanguo residents fleeing the area in the aftermath of the 2014 attacks.The area has been on lockdown from essential services from the poor road PHOTO:COURTESY

Lamu,KENYA:Human rights activists in Lamu and residents have expressed suspicion with the ongoing amnesty program for Alshabaab returnees willing to reform saying it raises eyebrows on whether or not its indeed genuine.

Speaking in Lamu on Friday,the activists said many families are adamant to give out their children who have just returned from Somalia for fear that they might be killed or ‘disappear’ as is systematic with most government arrests of terror suspects in the region.

According to Abubakar Yusuf,an activist in the county,many of the returnees and their families are willing and ready to reform but are quite afraid since many don’t trust the government amnesty program.

He said many see the program as an easier way for the government to easily capture and eliminate all those linked to Alshabaab irrespective of whether or not they are willing to be rehabilitated.

Yusuf said there is need for more transparency on exactly how the amnesty is provided and for the families to assured of the safety of their kin before they are surrendered for rehabilitation.

He said its unfortunate that most returnees who surrendered initially when the program started have never been heard of seen again by their families leading to speculations that they could have been killed by government agencies who are secretly using the program to clean society of terrorism.

“The government needs to be able to assure the returnees plus their families of their safety first of all.Then they should break down how the entire amnesty program runs and for how long.Then tell us what happens once our kin has been rehabilitated.We are afraid because most of those who surrendered for amnesty initially have never been heard of again and its been years now.Thats very suspicious.It could be that the government has silently eliminated them.We cant know because they don’t tell us the truth,”said Yusuf.

Residents say hundreds of youth secretly come back from Somalia to Lamu annually but due to the secrecy shrouding the amnesty program,many are adamant to present themselves to the concerned security agencies.

In April 2015,the national government announced the amnesty and rehabilitation for Alshabaab returnees and also pledged to ensure they are incorporated back into and become useful members of the society.

The activists say the program will be more productive if it will be conducted in a more transparent and accountable manner.

Aisha Athman said due to the kind of victimization and harassment that faces families who kin are suspected of terrorism by security agencies,many remain tight lipped even when their children disappear and are nowhere to be found.

“When you go to report that your child has disappeared, the police will first of all book you in for thorough grilling.By the time you are through,you regret why you even went to them in the first place.The so called amnesty must be done in the full glare of public knowledge so that we can ask questions when need be and we also know who to go to in any case.But as it is,people would rather keep their issues to themselves,”said Athman.

“When I told them that my niece was missing.They summoned me for over five times and all this while they didn’t even tell me if they had located him,all they were interested in was to endlesslessly question.It was very uncomfortable and really made me feel like a terrorist,”she added.

The county security office in Lamu has been encouraging and urging returnees to surrender for amnesty and rehabilitation.

Linda Boni Operation Director Joseph Kanyiri said despite constant assurances that the program was genuine,not a single returnee had turned up.

“The amnesty program is still on.We urge families to surrender the returnees so that they are rehabilitated.If you hide such a person,you will have a case to answer if found,”said Kanyiri.