By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
NAIROBI, Kenya – Human rights groups say Kenya’s decision to move refugees and asylum-seekers out of urban areas and into rural camps is “discriminatory” and “unlawful”.
Last Tuesday, the Kenyan government issued an order requiring Somali refugees and asylum-seekers living in urban centers including Nairobi, Nakuru and Mombasa to transfer to the Dadaab refugee camp complex in north-eastern Kenya, while those from other countries will be required to transfer to the Kakuma camp.
The government contends that this decision is meant to ensure the safety of Kenyan citizens since refugees have been allegedly involved in recent attacks in the capital and various parts of the Northeastern region.
On Friday, President Kibaki called for support to have them returned to their home countries. “There is no dignity in living in refugee camps,” he told the press after a meeting with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud. “Our two governments will work together to enable the hundreds of thousands of Somalia people who are living in refugee camps return to their homes . . . We also call on the international community to play their part and help the people of Somalia live in honourable lives in their homes,” he said.
Once the order is implemented, Kenya will no longer receive and register any new refugees and asylum-seekers. Registration centers in the mentioned urban areas will also close down. The Commissioner for the Department of Refugee Affairs Badu Katelo has also requested the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) to stop giving any services to those in urban areas.
However, the UNHCR, along with the Amnesty International, refused to acknowledge the resolution calling it illegal and in violation of international law regarding the protection of refugee rights.
The UNHCR claimed that the Kenyan government did not consult with relevant and concerned stakeholders before carrying out the order. The UN agency also said that the government failed to consider that most camps in the rural areas are already overcrowded. Thus, the resolution was “insensitive to the rights and plight of refugees.”
Amnesty International shared the same view. “This restriction on freedom of movement is likely to lead to other serious human rights abuses in already overcrowded, insecure refugee camps,” said Amnesty International’s East Africa observer Kathryn Achilles.
Medecins Sans Frontieres, which provides health aid and services in Dadaab, reported that it was already struggling to cope with the number of refugees in the camp.
Both the UNHCR and Amnesty International reminded the Kenyan government that it is a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention. Therefore, it is under an obligation to protect those seeking asylum on its territory.
“Kenya must live up to its obligations under international law, and must have the support of the international community to do so, including through increased funding and resettlement programmes,” urged Amnesty International in a recent press release.
For further information, please see:
Daily Nation – Kenya tightens resolve on Somalia refugees – 23 December 2012
All Africa – Kenya: Fury Over Order for All Refugees to Go to Daadab – 22 December 2012
BBC News – Kenya’s Somali refugee plan unlawful, says Amnesty – 21 December 2012
Reuters – Amnesty says Kenya sending refugees to camps unlawful – 21 December 2012
Amnesty International – Kenya’s decision to confine refugees and asylum-seekers in camps is unlawful – 20 December 2012