Friday, February 04, 2011

UK complicit in my rendition - testimony of Umm Dawud

Written by Asim Qureshi Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Umm Dawud gives her testimony to Cageprisoners regarding her detention in Kenya and subsequent rendition to Ethiopia with the complicity of the British government.

The conflict had begun in Somalia at the very end of 2006. Ethiopia had invaded the country on the pretext of wanting to remove the Union of Islamic Courts from power, despite the peace that was in the country at the time.
My sister-in-law and I knew that we needed to flee from the country and go to the closest British embassy which we knew to be in Nairobi. It was awful, there were gunshots and helicopters above us and there was no road to travel on. We decided to join a convoy of other women who were foreign nationals attempting to get to Nairobi as well – this was in January 2007. It turned out that most of the women in this convoy were pregnant, and I was four months pregnant myself at the time. There were also a number of children with us.
The journey took us three weeks from Mogadishu through Kismayo and eventually arriving in Kenya where we were arrested at the border. We were then taken to Nairobi and detained at a police station.
Four of us women were detained in the cell – this was without the Tunisian woman, Enis, who had been shot during the arrest. The shooting incident happened when we had just got up to pray fajr (the pre-sunrise prayer). At the time the children of an American lady who passed away from malaria during our journey were sleeping with her, although they usually slept with me, on this occasion Enis had taken charge of them. There was literally a moment when the little girl Sumayyah, was handed over to me by Enis and just as I sat down with her, we heard gunshots everywhere. We began to move out of the building in order to comply with the soldiers and we saw Enis just lying on the floor, she was not moving at all. I kept on trying to get her to move, but she could not speak any English and showed me blood, we realised that she had been shot in her back – she was five months pregnant at the time and so we were worried about her and her baby.
The soldiers were really agitated and kept on repeating that Enis was a man, but we kept on trying to convince them that we were all women and that the children were screaming. One of the soldiers gave an order that they should start shooting as we could not be trusted, he kept on reiterating that it was the women who were the worst. To be honest, none of us thought we would survive, we felt as if our life would be ended here and we kept on repeating our shahaadah (Islamic declaration of faith).
It was at this time that I noticed that the person who seemed to be conducting the entire operation was a white American soldier. I began to shout at him that we needed help, that we needed to get to some kind of refugee camp, just to go anywhere to flee the conflict. I kept on shouting that we were just civilians and that there were many western nationalities amongst us, such as Swedish, many different citizens. It was at that moment that he gestured to them to stop and they did so. From the place where this initial arrest took place, we were taken to the cell in Nairobi to be detained further.
The conditions in Nairobi were amongst the worst that I experienced, it was a hard concrete freezing cold floor, there was nothing for us to use for comfort, no mattress, blanket or cushion, nothing at all. The children were in so much pain, some of them had diarrhoea, stomach pains and nappy rash which was making them cry. We were forced to use our own clothes as pillows, and that was the only comfort that we were afforded during that time. The whole situation was horrible.
We were kept in the Nairobi cell for five days and we were absolutely begging them to give us any legal help that they could or just to be able to contact our embassies. They would just laugh and say that you are terrorists and you have been arrested under the terrorism laws and so you have no rights to such access. At the time I told them that I had British residency, that I had been granted permanent leave to remain there, but they were not interested at all in giving me any of my rights.
It was during my time at the cell that I was interviewed for the first time. I am not entirely sure by who, but it seemed that it was the Kenyans who were using a Somali as well. A group of men came who interviewed us and asked about where we came from and why we had come to Kenya. They were asking many questions about our husbands who were attempting to flee from the conflict and get to their embassies in separate convoys. They kept on telling us that we were arrested while fighting back – that we were terrorists and were fighting them with guns etc. They just could not hear anything else that we had to say.
Although we were not abused as such in the cells that we were being kept in, we were abused when we were first arrested. There was a man who was shoving us everywhere and then he took off all of our hijabs and began to film us. They were laughing at us and taunting us during this filming. They also took many of our possessions away from us – from me they took $1000 and much gold jewellery from others.
On the fifth night of our detention, without warning they came to start transporting us to another location. This man came who was actually really quite scary, he just looked really mean. He first took the children of the American lady away, as by then they had realised that the children were American citizens. This was really quite difficult for me as the children had become really close to me. We were trying to cross the border, the women thought that they would not allow the children to cross also without a parent, and so it was better that we pretended that the children were our own for the purpose of crossing over to safety at least. During the three week period, I had been telling them that I would be their ‘mummy’ for a little while until they met with their other ‘mummy’. They actually then began to start calling me ‘mum’ and it resulted in them becoming really attached to me. The soldiers snatched the children away from me and put them on a counter while shoving us into a van – the children were hysterical, in tears and completely terrified. We didn’t know where we were being taken and I kept on asking about what was going to happen to the children. The soldiers told me that I should be worried about myself and that the children would be fine.
We were handcuffed, blind-folded and taken away in a van, without knowing anything about what was going to take place. It was a tinted van and it was at night, so we really could not see anything. The next thing that we knew, we were at the airport and we could see the men, who had attempted the border crossing, also arrested – they were in a really bad condition – they looked unwell, freezing cold and like they had been shoved around a lot. Some of them were being slapped. At that time we did not know where we would be going, but because of the plane, we knew it would be somewhere.
The flight itself was one of the most difficult moments for me – obviously I was pregnant and I really needed to go to the ladies. I asked one of the guards, who seemed like he was a Muslim due to the way that he was dressed, if I could go. My handcuffs were behind my back on the flight and I was really desperate to go, so things were very difficult for me. He got this lady officer to take me to the toilet, but she refused to take my cuffs off and so there was this horrible situation where she was required to then take my trousers down for me. I kept on saying to her, that you have searched, I do not have anything on me, why can’t I just use the toilet like a human being. She did not care – she kept on repeating that you are the worst, it was like their mantra. It was such a humiliating experience that I feel that it was my worst moment.
During the flight we were not allowed to speak to one another. They kept on shouting over and over again, “SHUT UP!” One officer said to me, “Shut up, or I’ll pop your eyes out.” On the flight with us there was a Sudanese girl, who could only have been around eight-years-old, and she just could not stop crying the whole way, she was terrified and the whole situation was so disturbing.
When we arrived in Somalia, it was the Ethiopian troops we were dreading, as the war was with Ethiopia and they were the ones who were keeping us detained – we knew they would be the worst. As I am originally Ethiopian, I was particularly concerned they would be harsh with me.
When we got there, we noticed that the detained men from the flight were being marched towards the Indian Ocean – we could not see where they were taking them exactly and thought that it was the end for the men, that they would be shot and so we all began to scream. I asked one of the soldiers if they were now going to just kill us, I told him I was Ethiopian, and he became shocked. I think this may have changed our situation a little as they began to treat us better.
They took us to a room which was really dusty and horrible and kept all the women and children detained there. There were all sorts of insects and scorpions in the room and one of the women was found to have a yellow scorpion on her shoulder and there were even snakes entering into this tiny room. There were so many of us in this room, that there was only standing or sitting room, you could not lie down as there was just not enough room to do so. There were so many women pregnant and they tried to bring a couple of doctors but it obvious to us that the people they brought, really did not know anything at all. All-in-all it was a miserable situation.
In Somalia I was questioned by both the Somali and Ethiopian agents. It was really silly, it was nothing to do with why I was held there or why I had been in Somalia, every question related to why I became a Muslim. That was all they wanted to know. I asked them if they had any other questions for me, but he kept on saying no, he just wanted to understand why anyone would want to become a Muslim. It was baffling for them that someone with a sane mind who had lived in Europe, would have chosen to become a Muslim. They really did not ask me about anything else.
We were detained in Somalia for 10 days before being transferred on to Ethiopia. We were kept in that room for ten days. We were not given anything to eat for the first 24 hours, but then started to receive food once a day. We used to beg them to give us something for the kids to eat at least, by this stage I was close to being five months pregnant.
We were never told anything before our transfer to Ethiopia. It was always sudden, they would not say anything at all. We only knew we had arrived in Ethiopia when one of the soldiers informed me of that fact after we had arrived. On the flight we had been blindfolded and taken to another destination – it was from there we were driven to Addis Ababa. Before being driven there though, we were forced to sleep at our point of arrival, and the soldiers made us sleep in the open air on the concrete floor – this was another particularly difficult night for us all. There was one Somali man detained with us, while he was lying on the concrete, handcuffed, he would ask to use the toilet everything other minute, and every time he would do so he would be beaten on his wound which would then force him to let out an unforgettable scream. The soldiers then started saying that they should start with killing the babies that were with us, as they would become the same as the terrorists tomorrow. They were saying all sorts of things the whole night and it was so cold that things were difficult.
We arrived in Addis Ababa by car and were detained in something that looked like an abandoned police station. Again we were all put in very cramped rooms, but at least this time they had provided us with mattresses and blankets which considering our previous treatment, was a luxury. Our treatment was considerably better than the men who were being held in wire cages.
Before long we were brought before a court and told that we were prisoners-of-war – the women were told this at least. The men were told that they were ‘enemy combatants’ but the women were marked as prisoners-of-war.
Soon enough the international community became aware of our detention by the Ethiopians and they were trying to give us better conditions due to this added scrutiny. We were told this specifically by the guards. By this time, we were also being given better medical support.
I was questioned two to three times by the Ethiopian officers, they were predominantly concerned with my husband. They kept on repeating that I knew where he was and that I was hiding it. I really had no clue where my husband was and still am worried about his fate now. They also kept on asking me what position I held within the Union of Islamic Courts, and things like that.
The British authorities came to question me once. This was about a month after I arrived in Ethiopia. A female agent came to question me, and although I do not remember her name, she specifically introduced herself as being from MI5. She was interested in the men, if I knew the men, if I knew what was going on, about my husband. She also showed me a number of pictures of people in the UK, none of whom I knew. She kept on going over these questions again and again. She never offered me any assistance in terms of actually helping, she said that I was Ethiopian and so there was nothing the British government could do, this is despite the fact that I had been given asylum in the UK from Ethiopia and had been returned there without any due process. The interview with MI5 happened a month after my detention there.
It was another two months after the MI5 interview that I was finally released. I don’t know why my release came about specifically at that time, it did seem to be a little random. It may be have been because I was very close to giving birth and they did not want me to give birth in the detention site. They picked up a few of us and dropped at a hotel at some random location
However difficult our plight was as women, I have to say that it was just horrible to see the way that the detained men were being treated – how they were placed in these tiny cages like animals. Some of them were being beaten up and taken away for interrogation, it was just really sad to see that. Also what happened to the children, what was their crime, what was our crime? Three women had their children in the prison itself, I was close to eight months pregnant at my time of release, but praise be to God I was released and am now home.

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