Illegal immigrants crackdown- Chinese, Nigerians among deported

A group of illegal immigrants being incarcerated at the Kasarani sports stadium.

The reaction was equal, opposite and fast. The lights of a police Land Cruiser shone through the darkness and illuminated a place two groups of men were almost starting a fight.

It was about 4.30am on a Sunday and the sky was starting to turn orange, signifying another end of an exhilarating night life around the Nyama Villa area of Kayole. The noise from over a dozen clubs that dot the area had subsided and most working girls had already left, creating a spike in demand.

A Nigerian man had been buying drinks the whole night for some scarlet woman, but when it was time to leave, she who opted for a Kenyan, sparking a fight. The foreigner was overpowered. He left but he came back after half an hour with more than a dozen of his countrymen spoiling for a fight.

“It was like a movie,” recalls Kevin Wainaina, a boda boda rider who witnessed the incident last month.

Of concern is not why grown men were fighting each other over a prostitute outside an entertainment spot, but the sheer number of foreigners in a low-income neighbourhood who had cut short their sleep to revenge and show their unity of purpose.

This is what a typical night in the low-income neighbourhoods of Nairobi looks like nowadays. An endless cat and mouse game between authorities determined to arrest and deport illegal immigrants in a city that is increasingly turning into a haven for transnational crime.

In the last three months since it announced a crackdown, the government has deported a staggering 1,227 illegal immigrants. That is 13 people deported on a daily basis at a cost to taxpayers.

Work permits

Mind you the crackdown has largely concentrated on those who have been employed without work permits. Consequently, it is anyone’s guess how the numbers will look if the government decides to smoke out every illegal immigrant.

Tanzania leads the list with 217 of its citizens being sent back home, followed by Ethiopia (210), Uganda (158), Somalia (148) while South Sudan closes the top five with 115. Sixth on the list is Nigeria with 84 of its nationals deported. It is followed by China (78), Burundi (55), Congo (51) and Egypt (38).

In the neighbourhoods, however, it is the Chinese and Nigerians whose soaring numbers have become a source of concern. This concern made its way to Parliament this week when some MPs demanded the revoking of work permits issued to undeserving Chinese whom they accused of chocking the employment market.

“We see Chinese roasting maize in Nairobi. They own stalls in Gikomba market. Why should they come and hawk when we have jobless youth?” asked Kiharu MP Ndindi Nyoro on Tuesday.

“It is shocking that nowadays you walk around the city and meet a Chinese roasting maize or hawking, really? What skills do we need for that kind of a job?”

While not entirely true, the lawmaker’s assertions could be a tip of the iceberg on exactly how many illegal migrants are living in Kenya. The government says it cannot give an estimation on how many there are but blames our porous borders for creating the problem.

“I am just three months old here. It would be unfair for me to give you the number of illegal immigrants,” says Alexander Muteshi, the Director of Immigration.

Muteshi was plucked from the National Intelligence Service (NIS), where he was in charge of counter-terrorism, in order to clean up the mess at the immigration office. That was in July.

So big is the problem that the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) has formed a Transnational Organised Crime Squad whose sole mandate is to track down foreigners involved in crime. This squad has been behind the dozens of arrests of foreigners.

Among the biggest arrests made in recent weeks are 15 Chinese who were running a brothel in South C, 20 Nigerians who were defrauding people on M-Pesa from Kasarani and 21 Nepalese girls who were working in a brothel on Mogotio Road in Westlands, Nairobi.

Questionably, dozens of immigrants who have been arrested and deported often find their way back. They then continue with their illegal activities right under the noses of the authorities until they are re-arrested.

Abdoulaye Tamba and Abdalla Tamba (both nationals of Chad) who at the beginning of the month were found with over Sh1 billion of fake currency were in 2015 arrested over a similar crime and deported.

During the first arrest, the father and son had passports from the Central African Republic and were deported to that country together with a Suleiman Musa, Mahmat Tamba and Yahya Kangweri.

The Saturday Standard is aware that Mahmat Tamba is back in the country too and is a regular patron at a club along Thika Superhighway that is popular with university students and West Africans.

He operates four Facebook accounts where he flaunts his fine lifestyle but has since deleted most of the content after we tried to contact him for this story.

“You know Kenya has porous borders but we have cases where our officers have allowed them in illegally and we have disciplined them,” admits Muteshi, adding that the Chinese and Nigerians are his biggest headache.

“The problem we have with the Chinese is most of them come but they don’t declare their immigration status and want to work or engage in business.”

The big question is why Kenya, a country with way less economic opportunities than Nigeria and China, is becoming an attractive destination for fraudsters from those two countries.

Weak laws

“These people are able to dirty things knowing very well they will not be caught or punishment is lenient. They are actually exploiting loopholes in our weak laws,” says Henry Ochieng, the CEO of Kenya Alliance of Resident Association (KARA).

With its high internet speeds, a good financial system which is integrated to a widely successful mobile money platform and weak enforcement of laws courtesy of corruption, it is not difficult to see where the answer lies.

While you, as a customer might not know it, insiders in the banking industry say when your bank tells you it has suspended mobile money or internet banking there is a chance they have detected some fraud and are trying to recover their money.

In June, it was reported that two banks lost Sh86 million within two weeks after their systems were hacked.

One bank managed to recover Sh63 million that had left its systems but was hit again, losing Sh12 million. The second bank lost Sh91 million but managed to recover Sh50 million.

The hacking is said to have happened between 5pm and 7pm on June 21, forcing one bank to suspend its mobile banking platform. The Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) has refused to comment on this hacking and cannot relate the influx of illegal immigrants to the increase in fraud targeting banks.

“I cannot say no and I cannot say yes either,” says Habil Olaka, KBA chief executive.

“It is difficult to correlate the two because online fraud can be done from anywhere. Unless you had statistics from Immigration Department it could be coincidental that we have a lot of illegal Chinese and Nigerians in the country,” he says.

Referred to as ‘Yahoo Boys’ in their home country and driven by a desire to have flashy lifestyles through quick money that is glorified in Lagos, they are the male version of socialites. Their lifestyles are glorified through songs and they are routinely ranked by blogs and news sites on who is the richest.

Mini colonies

The American Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reports on its website that between October 2013 and May 2018, the Yahoo Boys stole a staggering Sh1.25 trillion from 150 countries.

Sections of Roysambu, Donholm, Kayole, Tena, Umoja and Kitengela in and around Nairobi have been turned into mini colonies of Nigerians who residents say they cannot exactly tell what they are engaged in but they are flush with cash and have flashy lifestyles. They pay rent upfront for up to six months and one house can have over a dozen occupants who just idle around.

So concentrated are the Nigerians that one section of Roysambu is no wknown as ‘Lagos’ and its rents have doubled in just two years.