NAIROBI: Kenya’s Department of Immigration and the National Police Service has embarked on a crackdown on Pakistani citizens reported to be transiting through the country to Saudi Arabia for greener pastures.
The two agencies launched the operation following a directive by Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho who ordered an immediate crackdown on foreigners following reports of illegal immigrants.
Allafrica.com reported that close to 2,000 Pakistani citizens were picked from different hotel residences and bundled at Waiyaki Gardens Place, an apartment in Nairobi’s Mountain View area, where the verification exercise was being undertaken.
The directive by the interior ministry was issued after reports emerged of an influx of Pakistani nationals spotted in estates in Athi River within Machakos and Nairobi.
Kenya consequently suspended an agreement that Pakistani citizens are granted visa-free entry.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced on Wednesday that the country will no longer admit visitors from Pakistan without entry visas, until further notice.
The Foreign Office cited a spike in the number of people travelling from Pakistan in route to Saudi Arabia and other destinations, through Kenya.
The ministry raised concern that Pakistani travellers were taking advantage of the visa-free agreement to violate Covid-19 quarantine regulations.
A foreigner picked up in the operation lamented saying the operation was unnecessary since they have valid transit visas to Saudi Arabia. “We are being told we are here for verification. We are only labourers, poor people on transit to Saudi Arabia. We have come to Kenya to quarantine for 14 days before we travel to Saudi Arabia to look for greener pastures,” said Patel.
Patel did not disclose his second name so as to keep his identity confidential.
It also emerged that the foreigners had opted to transit through Kenya, the country having been listed among three African nations from where a cluster of nationals from certain countries can travel to the United Arab Emirates.
The transiting travellers raised concerns on how the manner in which the crackdown was conducted the crackdown saying they were being held incommunicado with no clarity on the next course of action.
“We came here last night; we have not slept even for a second. We have no food, no water. We have been bundled together with no social distancing,” a foreigner held following the operation said.
Patel Jera, a local agent for the foreigners, questioned the rationale for crackdown saying a majority of those targeted were in the country legally. “It was not really done in a nice way. There were rumours that they are Pakistani in the country illegally, most of this people have gone through the airports and applied for visas. What was the necessity of bringing all this people over here? You could have just asked them for their passport instead of bundling them here, you can see the chaos,” he said.
The agent warned that the crackdown could cost Kenya as foreigners preferring the country as a transit hub could switch to other destinations.
“The most preferred destination is Dubai, but it has its own issues at the moment due to COVID-19 restrictions. The influx is due to what is happening currently in Dubai. I hope it will not tarnish the hope to come back to Kenya,” Patel said.