Kenyan police are investigating allegations that Ethiopian government agents are kidnapping and harassing Ethiopian refugees of Oromo-origin living in Kenya, a charge the Ethiopian government denies.
An official with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Rosella Pagliuchi, said the nervousness many Ethiopian refugees living in Kenya feel is a big problem.
"Obviously, the fact that they feel so insecure needs to be taken seriously and needs to be addressed," she said. "And this is what we're trying to do with the government of Kenya, trying to ensure that people can enjoy safety in asylum."
Hundreds of refugees from mostly the Oromia region of Ethiopia gathered outside the U.N. refugee agency's Nairobi offices Tuesday, saying that they are the target of spies sent by the Ethiopian government. They claim that government agents kidnapped about 25 Oromo refugees living in Nairobi with the intention of returning them to Ethiopia.
They say agents have killed some of the Oromo refugees.
The chief of Gigiri Police Station, Patrick Lumumba, who was at the demonstration, said the police are looking for the people accused of kidnapping the refugees, and has asked the refugees to come forward with specific information to aid the investigation.
The Oromo people, who are traditionally pastoralists, number some 30 million, about half of Ethiopia's population. For decades, they have been protesting what they say is domination and marginalization of their society by the ruling elite.
Many Oromos have been calling for an independent state. The Oromo Liberation Front was created in 1973 to lead a national liberation struggle.
Human rights groups have accused the Ethiopian government of repressing the Oromo people. For instance, in May of this year, the New York-based organization Human Rights Watch said that, in the run-up to national elections, authorities had tortured, imprisoned, and harassed many critics in Oromia.
Ethiopia's ambassador to Kenya, Murad Musa, was quoted in Kenyan press as saying that the Oromo Liberation Front is responsible for the kidnappings, and that the function of an embassy is not to kidnap people.