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UN warns Kenya about stigmatising refugees over blasts

Police dogs disperse rioters in Nairobi's Somali-dominated Eastleigh district, Nov 19, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

NAIROBI (AlertNet) – The United Nations has warned the Kenyan government about stigmatising refugees following Tuesday’s order barring all refugees and asylum seekers from living in towns and telling them to report to two camps.

Kenya has experienced a spate of bombings, shootings and hand-grenade attacks, which it blames on Somali militants, since it sent soldiers into its anarchic neighbour last year to drive out Islamist rebels linked to al Qaeda.

“UNHCR has noted recent public statements linking the presence of refugees to these security incidents,” the U.N. refugee agency said in a statement on Thursday. “We caution against stigmatisation of refugees and asylum seekers.”

Under the new directive, Somali refugees are required to be housed at Dadaab, while all other refugees must reside at Kakuma, a camp located near Kenya's frontier with South Sudan. In the past, those who could support themselves or were in need of specialised education or medical care were allowed to live in urban areas.

UNHCR spokesman Emmanuel Nyabera said that an inter-ministerial committee will meet on January 8 to decide on the way forward. “We are consulting to ensure that their [government] concerns are taken care of and the rights of refugees are respected but so far nothing has changed,” he said.


Experts working with refugees have spoken out against the government directive, which would affect more than 100,000 refugees of various nationalities living in urban areas.

“The rise of xenophobia against Somalis from all backgrounds in Kenya is really worrying, and the government's announcement will only exacerbate that,” said Laura Hammond, a senior lecturer in development studies at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

Tensions have risen in Eastleigh, a part of Nairobi commonly dubbed "Little Mogadishu" because of its large Somali population, following a series of attacks. In November, there were street battles between Kenyans and ethnic Somalis after a bomb on a minibus killed seven people.

Some of Eastleigh’s population are refugees but many others are Kenyans of Somali ethnicity and illegal migrants. Police harassment of Somalis has increased in recent weeks, according to a lawyer working with refugees in Eastleigh.

Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, is home to over 525,000 Somali refugees. It is severely overcrowded, hosting four times the population it was built for.

Kakuma is also full due to a recent influx of refugees from Sudan and South Sudan.

In Thursday’s statement, the UNHCR said it was counting on the Kenyan government to ensure that adequate land and facilities are made available.

“It is probably not practically feasible for Kenya to move 100,000 additional people into the refugee camps,” said Hammond. “So what is the point of this statement? Is it just to foment fear and resentment against Somalis living in Kenyan cities?”

On Tuesday, the acting commissioner for refugee affairs, Badu Katelo, told AlertNet that the movement of urban refugees to new camps would probably start in the first or second week of January. “We will do this relocation in a humane, safe and dignified manner,” he said.

He was not available for comment on Thursday



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