GARISSA, KENYA, 28 Oct 2012 — Imagine having to move out of your house and leave your beloved family and prized possessions behind hundreds of kilometres away.
Imagine having to suffer the pain and misery of a war that you never wished for and never a part of, or the severe drought that had ravaged the land. Imagine walking barefooted and penniless across the scorching heat of the desert just for a sip of water and something to eat. Imagine doing all these and getting imprisoned because it is against the law.
The HALUAN Humanitarian and Relief Mission for Somali Refugees team tried to comprehend just this as we made our way to the Garissa Prison, not far from the heart of Garissa town. We were brought there by Sheikh Abdullahi Salat, Chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims and Brother Ahmednadhir Omar of the Northern Kenya Empowerment Initiative (NKEI), local NGOs that have been closely working with HALUAN over the Somali refugee issue. This is our second visit to the Garissa Prison, the first being a discussion with the prison authorities on the possibility of bringing some qurban meat for Muslim prisoners there.
Most of them are behind bars for being ”illegal immigrants,” putting their lives on the line in a foreign land that they reached on foot. Praise be upon God, we were there again with 15 goats to slaughter within the prison compound, all of which will be distributed to the prisoners, guaranteed by the prison imam.
prison-03Heavily guarded by the prison wardens around us, the team worked shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the prisoners in the slaughtering process. Much to our amazement, they were also allowed to do the slaughtering themselves, with knives in their hands. Knowing the reputation of the Kenya Prison as told by Sheikh Ya’kub earlier, such a view could only mean one thing – that these prisoners are as human as we are, and their only ‘crime’ was to keep breathing as we all do. Led by the prison imam and HALUAN Malaysia team leader, Mr. Mohd Jamil Muda, the slaughtering process was done in no more than 15 minutes, safe and secure.
Upon finishing the slaughtering of the animals, we were taken by the imam to visit the prison mosque located within the prison area itself. This mosque was built on donations and waqaf by a concerned citizen whose identity remained secret. The problem is, it has never been used after its completion. As told by the imam, the walls surrounding the mosque were not high enough according to standard, hence the refusal of the prison authorities to allow its use for fear of prisoners escaping. “A standard prison wall should be seven to nine metres tall. At that height, it’s impossible for anyone to jump or climb through,” explained Ahmednadhir of NKEI.
Our Kenya prison ‘tour’ attracted the attention of the prisoners who were then queuing for lunch in the prison compound. Most just looked away while several greeted us with Salaam. We were pleased our little visit was a cause of a little happiness for them this Eid. Hopefully the meaty meal that they will savour could spark some joy and faith that God has not forsaken them, and that their Muslim brothers from Malaysia and other countries are still there to help in ways that they can.
For all the Somali refugees behind bars in Garissa, we Malaysians feel your pain. May you be blessed with patience and faith.
(No photography is allowed during this occasion due to prison rules)
Report by Bro. Irwan Affendi in Garissa, Kenya.