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Nairobi, Kenya-Questions arise after the UN Monitoring Group for Somalia and Eritrea (SEMG) made heavy but unsubstantiated allegations against Italian diplomats in Kenya — and after independent confirmation was made by Avvenire.
Are visas sold by the Italian diplomatic offices in Nairobi? Are they issued, after large payments, to Somali individuals involved in human trafficking and even to members of al-Shabaab, the rebel group allied with al-Qaeda?
SEMG’s allegations that appear for the second consecutive year in a 2011 classified dossier that the UN body drafted and circulated this past July could embarrass our diplomacy and raise serious doubts about it.
The SEMG believes that members of the Italian Embassies for Kenya and Somalia have been involved between 2005 and 2010, sometimes unknowingly but in other cases voluntarily, in the illegal selling of visas to Somali traffickers. The visas could have also ended up in the hands of the insurgents that are starving the country by opposing the delivery of aid materials to tackle the famine, or by looting them and re-selling them.
“Strictly confidential” dossier
The UN investigators’ report is under embargo, but through sources at the UN headquarters in New York, Avvenire has obtained the highly classified document.
“In the jargon of the UN missions this type of dossiers are called ‘Statements of case’ (SOC)”– says Matt Bryden, SEMG’s coordinator, during a telephone conversation from New York, “but I can’t talk about it, the most confidential part of our work is the statements of case.” The SOCs, more detailed reports, circulate only within the 15 member-State delegations of the UN Security Council, which can then decide whether to start procedures for sanctioning the countries or individuals cited.
The role of the trafficker
In the confidential documentation that Avvenire has examined, it’s written that the best known Somali human trafficker, Abdirahman Abdi Salawat, in violation of the UN resolution 1907 of 2009 regarding security and terrorism, uses Italy as “primary route for human smuggling into Europe.” In the SEMG’s public report, Salawat has been accused of violating the UN resolution because he “smuggled suspected members of al-Shabaab to Europe.”
Are the renewed accusations by the UN against Italy (the 2010 report already talked about similar circumstances) built upon these foundations? According to what was ascertained, events began on September 20th 2009, with an e-mail sent by an anonymous “Somali deputy” titled “Bribes and corruption over visa issuance taking place at the Embassy of Italy in Nairobi,” destined for the European Union immigration office.
The accusations reported in the e-mail were the base for a SEMG’s investigation that continues until today. “Several Somali sources have confirmed the allegations,” affirms Bryden, partly overcoming the confidentiality rules. “So, after collecting evidence of corruption in your Embassies, we’ve thought it justified mentioning Italy in the 2010 report.” Just before publishing it, on February 23rd 2010, a SEMG delegation met at the UN building with two representatives of the Italian UN permanent mission. Bryden said that he has been “verbally threatened” by the two diplomats after revealing his intentions of accusing Italy of corruption in the report that was soon to be released.
The inspection from Rome
Shortly after that, in March 2010, the Italian Foreign Ministry sent two inspectors to Nairobi to hold talks with the diplomats involved and to examine the visas’ archive. The results of the investigation are found in a document sent to Rome, which is not accessible to the media. One of the measures taken by the Italian Foreign Ministry was to annul the signature for issuing visas of the Italian Ambassador to the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia (TFG), Stefano Dejak (nominated Ambassador for Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi on November 1st), whom since 2009 was in charge of approving only the requests made by TFG’s officials. “Since Italy was mentioned in the report,” states an Italian diplomatic source under anonymity “the Italian Foreign Ministry thought appropriate to revoke Dejak’s authority over the visas to avoid any other misunderstanding.” Other indiscretions made by the story’s key players can lead one to assume that the suppression of Dejak’s signature was in fact a punishment for his abuse of power. But only the confidential report of the inspectors will be able to shed light on the real reason behind this disciplinary action.
Questioned by Avvenire, the Italian Foreign Ministry has confirmed that, in March 2010, their investigative department after receiving vague information on possible irregularities, organized a mission to Nairobi that ended with some directives to correct the visa issuing procedures. There weren’t however – states the Italian Foreign Ministry – neither particular cases of corruption nor elements of individual faults as to adopt other measures.
Confutations and confirmations
After the publication of the 2010 SEMG’s report, the Italian diplomacy in Nairobi deemed the allegations in it to be “rumors without evidence.” Even though Avvenire has not found any proof regarding a direct involvement in the trafficking of visa by the Italian Embassies, sources met from July 2010 have described a complicated and surprising picture of the dynamics behind the emigration of Somali citizens. “Many of us have to rely on ‘brokers’ to obtain an Italian visa,” explains Omar, one of the sources that wants to be reimbursed by a broker that wasn’t able to buy him a visa, “We have to pay even to reach the ninth floor of the building where the Italian Embassy to Kenya is located.”
We’ve indeed been told that during the last 15 years, the sum to pay to get to the Consular office was between 100 and 500 dollars. Other hundreds of dollars are paid to bribe Italian and Kenyan immigration officials, airline staff, and to pay the traffickers themselves.
Both Avvenire and SEMG’s investigations estimate that a visa issued by the Italian Embassy could have cost between 12 and 20,000 dollars, money that Somalis collect mostly through relatives and friends living abroad. “Once the sum is paid, the traffickers send a taxi to your house,” affirms Halima, who’s waiting to be picked up for the travel of hope to Europe. “From the Nairobi airport, an intermediary follows you until destination to hand you over to another trafficker in Italy that manages the arrival and the other Europeans border-crossing.”
The majority of the people involved in the human trafficking use Italy as route to reach the UK or Scandinavian countries.
Some Somalis fingered a broker called Banjo, and many traffickers including Salawat. “I’ve worked officiously for the Italian Embassy in Nairobi between 2005 and 2009,” Banjo told us in December 2010. “I was helping Somalis to fill their Italian visa applications. I was doing it voluntarily, but I was earning some money according to the possibility of my clients.” The SEMG “believes that ‘Salawat’ used ‘Banjo’ to conspire with a senior diplomat from the Italian embassy to the TFG,” states the SOC.
New procedures adopted
According to Avvenire’s investigation, Italian diplomats in Kenya, with a May 4th e-mail, initially denied to the SEMG that they had ever used Banjo. “The Embassy, however, later accepted that ‘Banjo’ did in fact work in the consular section as a “translator” but in a personal capacity of a former staff diplomat.”
Despite having repeatedly asked about Salawat, the Italian diplomatic community in Kenya refused to comment to Avvenire. After many years and following pressure from different actors, since August 1st all the visa requested are managed by VFS Global, an independent company in Nairobi.
It should not go unnoticed that there are great gaps in the SEMG’s investigations. The SOC describes “seven immigration visas commissioned by ‘Salawat’ and supposedly issued by the Italian Embassy in Nairobi.” The only evidence shown to sustain such an allegation is a visa, examined by Avvenire, that is clearly falsified.
Moreover, the Monitoring group proves to be a UN agency that can’t itself be monitored because “first of all, we have immunity,” says Bryden, whose investigators often spend hundreds of dollars to obtain information from their sources. In at least two occasions, we’ve directly witnessing the payment of one hundred dollars put in an envelope as fee for a meeting between a SEMG-investigator and two Somali informers.
Because of this practice, the information gathered through these “credible sources,” as are often quoted in the public report of this UN organization, have been in fact questioned by analysts and diplomats that for years have been following the Somali crisis.
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