Why Immigration offices remain shut in Garissa despite state promise

When Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki visited Garissa town on June 2, he told a crowd that had gathered at Farmers Training College grounds that the immigration offices would re-open July 1.

Six months later, there is no sign of activity at a facility that was once a beehive of activity as residents of the vast North Eastern region sought to be registered, vetted and issued with passports.

The private building that had been rented by the government is now a shell of its former self.

The owner is ever hopeful that what was once his sole income earner could soon roar back to life.

The Garissa Immigration offices were shut in 2014 following a wave of terror attacks in the region and parts of the country. The state of insecurity tipped Maj-Gen (Rtd) Gordon Kihalangwa, the former immigration boss, to order the closure.

The abrupt closure affected at least 400 pilgrims from the region who were to fly to Mecca, Saudi Arabia and 300 soldiers from Kenya and Sierra Leone who were to be deployed to Somalia then.

Maj-Gen (Rtd) Kihalangwa’s memo announcing the closure on September 11, 2014, said the decision was necessary to allow his department time to review its procedures to seal the operational loopholes that had allowed aliens to access crucial immigration documents.

“Considering the prevailing insecurity, this practice (decentralization) does not work in the national interest. Devolution is good but we cannot devolve security, which remains the domain of the national government,” he said then.

However, according to Prof Kindiki, reopening of the Garissa Immigration offices was part of the Kenya Kwanza administration’s efforts to enhance equal access to quality immigrations services.

“We used to have an immigration office here which was closed. I want to announce that we shall open a new office to issue passports here in Garissa starting July 1, 2023,” he said.

Six months later, the offices have remained closed with no signs of reopening any time soon.

“I don’t trust this government any more given its empty promises every day,” Hussein Olow, a resident said.

Mr Olow said the closure forced residents to travel to Nairobi to get travel documentation.

“It is expensive to travel to Nairobi to get travel documents because you must budget more on accommodation in the city,” he said.

Halima Osman, wondered why the government was so prompt reopening immigration offices in Embu, Nakuru and Kisumu despite the fact that they were closed at the same time as Garissa.

When reached for comment, North Eastern Regional Coordinator John Otieno said renovations were underway ahead of the offices re-opening.

One resident, Ali Koro said a relative of his who is due to travel to India for treatment is still in Nairobi awaiting to get a passport.

“We want these offices to reopen so that our students and those seeking medication outside the country can do it with a lot of ease,” Mr Koro said.

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