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Monday, May 3, 2010

A diplomatic row between Kenya and UAE

Nairobi Star (Nairobi)
17 April 2010

Nairobi — The deportation of four senior members of the United Arab Emirates government has sparked a serious diplomatic row between Kenya and UAE.

The UAE has for the last two weeks denied many Kenyans including a cabinet minister, MPs and business people entry visas to Dubai on flimsy grounds.

Hundreds of Kenyan traders flock to Dubai to buy electronics, textiles, household goods, mobile phones and industrial products which are available at fair prices since it is a free port.

Planning Minister Wycliffe Oparanya and his personal assistant were last week denied entry into Dubai for several hours - even though the minister holds a diplomatic passport.

It took the intervention of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nairobi for Oparanya who was travelling back from New York to be allowed in.

Members of Parliament's Committee on Implementation, which is chaired by Kigumo MP Jamleck Kamau, were denied visas in Nairobi last week but were allowed in when they applied on arrival at Dubai International Airport.

"They denied us visas when we applied in Nairobi but when we arrived in Dubai on Thursday they issued them to us. We were told that the UAE was very upset because of some arrests that were made so they decided to retaliate by denying Kenyans visas," said joint Government chief whip Jakoyo Midiwo who was in the delegation.

The Star learnt yesterday that a group of Kenyans who had been recruited by Emirates Airline have been denied work permits. It is not clear how much the row has affacted the 40,000 Kenyans working in the United Arab Emirates, especially those in Dubai.

Agents handling visa applications for Dubai sent out text messages yesterday to some of their clients saying the Dubai Immigration office had temporarily stopped issuing visas to Kenyans.

"Dear client. Please note Dubai visas have been halted by Dubai Immigration office in Dubai. Only persons booking a package inclusive of hotel flights and transfers are getting the Visa. This is booked at least two weeks in advance, once the situation gets back to normal we will certainly advice," said one agent.

Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula and Permanent Secretary Mwangi Thuita confirmed yesterday that there was a serious problem between Kenya and UAE but said it was being resolved.

"I'm personally heading to the United Arab Emirates for a series of meetings with senior government officials to resolve the issue next week," said the minister.

Wetangula said the UAE was retaliating for the arrest of its government officials in Mombasa. A senior official from the UAE met Wetangula a few days ago in Nairobi to discuss the issue and the two agreed that a joint commission between the two countries will help resolve the matter.

He even extended an invitation for President Kibaki to visit UAE this year and announced that they will open an Embassy in Kenya by September as away of improving relations."Some of those people arrested here on suspicion of being terrorists were senior police officers in Dubai and so the UAE was very upset," said Wetangula yesterday.

Three weeks ago police in Mombasa arrested four people they claimed were terror suspects. The four wereheld at Moi International Airport but Coast PPO Leo Nyongesa said they were not on the international list of terror suspects.

The four had been in the country for a week on holiday before flying down to Mombasa where they were held and questioned for hours by Anti-Terrorism Police Unit. They were later flown to Nairobi then deported to Dubai.

It is understood that some of them are from one of the powerful royal families in Dubai. "The moment they arrived here, the ministry issued instructions that Kenyans be denied visas and a set of new rules and qualifications was issued. They include a provision that one must hold a degree from a recognised university," said an official in UAE's Ministry of Immigiration.

Immigrations minister Otieno Kajwang yesterday accused the police of acting beyond their powers by deporting the four. According to the law, only the Minister for Immigration can sign deportation orders for the police to enforce.

"I think after what happened with Fazul (most wanted terror suspect), the police must have been over-enthusiastic and acted outside the law." Speaking to the Star on the phone from Kinango, where he accompanied Prime Minister Raila Odinga on a Yes campaign rally, Kajwang said that he had decided to maintain his cool hoping the matter will be resolved diplomatically.

However the minister said that he had not been informed that some Kenyans had been denied visas to Dubai. "You are the first one to inquire about the denial of visas and let me inquire then get back to you," the minister said.

A businessman who frequently flies to Dubai said he was last week informed that issuance of visas had been suspended and even those with valid visas were not being issued with tickets by Emirates Airline.

"I was turned away when I went to the Emirates offices at View Park Towers to book a ticket for my flight," said Martin Kilach who imports assorted items from Dubai. He later sent his wife to apply for a visa just to be sure that the order was not selective and she too was turned away. Kilach said that he contacted several of his business colleagues who were scheduled to travel in the past two weeks and they too confirmed the same.

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