The story of James – a Kenyan man torn apart from his refugee wife

The story of James – a Kenyan man torn apart from his refugee wife

“I am an adult Kenyan man and I have spent all my life in Kenya. I don’t know what it is to be a refugee but I know how it feels to be affected by their suffering and to spend every day of my life in constant agony.

I am married to a refugee lady by the name Fatima*. She fled from Somalia in 2003 due to the civil war and inter-tribal clashes, and I met her in 2008. We became good friends and in 2013, we got married. In the beginning of this year we were blessed with a daughter. Life was good. I was working as a teacher in a private school in Eastleigh and my wife was a ‘stay at home mother’.

Things took a dark turn on the 13th of April 2014. I had seen on the radio and on the TV that refugees were being asked to go to the camp. There was also a great presence of many policemen in Eastleigh. Always, night or day. I was at home with my family and we were sleeping. There was a knock on the door. I woke up to respond. It was at around 3 A.M. I opened the door and found three policemen. They came in without even being invited. My wife and child also woke up. The policemen asked for our documents and we produced them. They said my wife, being a refugee, was supposed to be in a refugee camp. But they said if I would give them 10,000 Kenya shillings, they would not take her. I told them that I did not have such an amount of money at that hour of the night. They said “Huyu ni bure kabisa. Eka huyo mama kwa gari.” (This one is useless. Take the woman to the vehicle).

I begged them not to take my wife away but they did not listen. They took her plus our 3 months old child. My wife and child were both crying, and very afraid. I watched them being ferried away in the police vehicle with fear in their eyes begging me to help them, but there was nothing I could do.

They were taken to Pangani where they were kept for two days, then later to Kasarani Stadium and then to Industrial area police station for four days. While at Industrial area I went to visit them and found my child very sick. After a lot of begging and pleading, I was allowed to take her to hospital. She was diagnosed with malaria, typhoid and pneumonia that she had contracted during the time she was in police stations with his mother.

I could not believe the inhuman treatment my wife, child and many more refugees were facing due to the Government’s encampment directive. I almost lost my young daughter, barely old enough to know what was happening around her. This torture broke my heart. Knowing that there is nothing I could do to help them and watching them behind bars dirty, hungry and cold was more than physical torture for me. No human being deserves such treatment for a crime they have not committed. It is not my wife’s fault she had to flee for her life, and become a refugee. It is not my daughter’s fault for being born to this world by a refugee parent.

My daughter was admitted in hospital for three weeks. During this time, my wife was relocated to the Dadaab refugee camp. After my daughter was discharged, I travelled to Dadaab refugee camp to reunite her with her mother. I can only imagine the pain that my wife had been going through caused by this separation from her breastfeeding child.

Although I am still in Nairobi, I have lost my job due to all the trips I had to make to visit my wife and daughter at the police stations and taking care of my child. Words cannot explain what is in my heart. I never imagined ever going through such trauma. Not mentioning my daughter, who has had to suffer for being who she doesn’t even know she is. A refugee’s child.”


The real names of James* and Fatima* have been changed to protect their identity.

James narrated his story to Betty Murithi, Kituo cha Sheria, for the ‘1Family torn apart is too many’ campaign

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A refugee is a person who has been forced to flee his or her home country due to persecution, conflict or other forms of insecurity, and who is not able to return for the same reasons


At the end of March 2014, the Government of Kenya issued a Directive requiring all urban refugees in Kenya to relocate to the Dadaab or Kakuma refugee camps. Early April, the security operation Usalama Watch was launched in response to the emerging security challenges facing Kenya. Since then, thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers of different nationalities have been arbitrarily arrested in widespread swoops in Nairobi and other urban centres, and detained and relocated by the Kenyan authorities to the refugee camps. Also, around 355 persons, including at least 3 refugees, have been deported to Mogadishu. Most of the affected refugees have lived for many years in urban centres, where they have jobs or businesses, the children attend school and those with medical needs receive treatment. In the process of arrests, detention, relocations and deportations, around 300 children so far, including babies as young as 2 months, have been separated from their mothers and fathers. Several hundred more family members have been torn apart from their spouses or other close relatives. This campaign – ‘1Family torn apart is too many’ – is based on the global 2014 World Refugee Day theme, and tells the story of children, women and men affected by the operation, and calls to action to help refugee families stay united and continue living in peace and dignity.