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UN rejects Kenya move to confine refugees to camps

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A woman and her children inside their tent at Hagadera refugee site within the Dadaab complex. Photo/PHOEBE OKALL   Nation Media Group

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has rejected Kenya’s decision to remove refugees from towns and put them in camps as the country seeks to curb rising insecurity.

The UNHCR said the decision was hurried and insensitive to the rights and plight of refugees, many of them victims of civil strife in countries like Somalia and South Sudan.

“We are still negotiating with them to take steps that will both ensure security but also protect the rights of refugees,” UNHCR spokesman Emmanuel Nyabera said.

Despite meeting with the UNHCR officials on Friday and Monday over the matter, the Government stopped the registration of refugees in urban areas through a public notice on Tuesday.

“The Government of Kenya has decided to stop reception, registration and will close down all registrations centres in urban areas with immediate effect,” said the acting Commissioner for the Department  of Refugee Affairs Badu Katelo in a press statement.

Mr Katelo said that all refugees from Somalia should report to Dadaab refugee camp while asylum seekers from other countries should go to Kakuma. The registration, he said, would now be done in the camps and refugees living outside would have to go back.

(Also read: UNHCR opposes Kenya move to push refugees out of towns)

Mr Kateloalso asked the UNHCR to stop providing direct services to asylum seekers and refugees in urban areas. Of the estimated 1.1 million refugees in Kenya, 735,800 are assisted by the UNHCR.

Mr Nyabera said the UNHCR provides services such as registration in urban areas and healthcare support to dispensaries that serve the displaced people. He said these services had not been stopped.

He said the influx of refugees to Kenya from Somalia had slowed down after the military incursion into that country by Kenyan forces made movement difficult.
Data from the UNHCR shows that Kenya is hosting 623,000 refugees from Somalia. About 14,300 are from Ethiopia, 33,000 from Sudan, 5,050 from DRC and 800 returnees.

More than 400,000 refugees live in Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world. The notice comes at a time when there have been a series of explosions in Nairobi, particularly in  Eastleigh area where most Somalia refugees live.

The Al-Shabab terrorist group is also said to have been planning major attacks in downtown Nairobi Central during the holiday season.

Kenyan forces have been dealing with increased influx of refugees on the Kenya-Somalia border where cases of terrorism have been rampant. Various humanitarians organisation have also reported being overwhelmed by refugee influx adding that the order could further stretch their capacity to handle them.

Kenya sent military forces into Somalia in October 2011. Since then, the country has seen a series of attacks on churches, bars and on public transport. Five people were killed and more than a dozen wounded after an attacker threw a grenade outside a mosque in Eastleigh last Friday.

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