Kenya cancels Pakistani free stays, orders crackdown on illegal arrivals

Karanja Kibicho

Interior and Citizen Services Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Kenya Wednesday announced a crackdown on illegal immigrants from Pakistan and imposed a freeze on the free transit arrangements it has with the Asian country in a bid to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

The Interior Ministry said it was reacting to the surge in numbers of Pakistanis passing through the country on their way to Saudi Arabia. The groups have been arriving in large numbers since last week, taking advantage of softer conditions on travellers from Kenya to the Middle East concerning Covid-19 regulations.

Dr Karanja Kibicho, the Interior and Citizen Services Principal Secretary said authorities had noted a possible abuse of existing free transit arrangements between Kenya and Pakistan.

“The Kenyan Government is alarmed by the threat of the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic posed by the influx of foreign travel … The government has ordered an immediate crackdown on foreigners who are in the country illegally,” he said in a statement.

“The government will restrict the number of foreigners transiting through the country to levels that do not pose a risk to Kenya’s national interests.”

The Department of Immigration and the National Police Service will now check the papers of all those who have arrived in the country in the recent past. Those without transit visas will be deported.

Freeze transit visas

On Wednesday, the Nation also learnt the Immigration Department will freeze further transit visas to Pakistanis in a bid to limit their numbers. The two countries have had an arrangement where travellers on transit visas can enter the country for free as they await reconnecting flights. For the Pakistanis heading to Saudi Arabia, for instance, staying around for 10 days allows them enough quarantine days with which they can use to enter Saudi Arabia as travellers from Kenya. They obtain these documents online. Staying around helps them beat the tougher quarantine measures the Middle Eastern nation has imposed on Pakistanis travelling directly.

But the Nation understands the influx of travellers has raised concerns in the diplomatic circles on the potential of these arrivals ruining the existing bilateral arrangements on Covid-19 management.

A source told the Nation that only Pakistanis with valid entry visas to Kenya will now be accepted. Free transit visas that have been the norm will be halted, the source explained, saying those who arrive after today on transit visas will be refused entry and turned back.

The official, speaking on the background, explained that the measure will help Nairobi manage its obligations with countries that have allowed it softer entry terms, in spite of Covid-19.

Dr Kibicho said the crackdown would be led by the Department of Immigration and the National Police Service, although he suggested that those already in the country have mostly been let in on transit visas while enroute to Saudi Arabia for work.

Pakistani High Commissioner to Kenya Saqlain Syedah could not immediately be reached for comment, but Government Spokesman Cyrus Oguna had indicated most of the arrivals had been let in as tourists.

Raised eyebrows

Their arrival in Kenya had raised eyebrows last week after they left the airport in buses. Most could not speak English and were unaware of their destination. Pakistan, like its neighbours in Asia, has battled variants of Covid-19 in the recent past. The country, like Kenya, was recently removed from the UK Red List of countries considered too risky to allow its arrivals into Britain. Now travellers from its territory can enter the UK without mandatory quarantine, but with self-isolation for 10 days and further Covid-19 tests.