NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A Kenyan human rights group has taken legal action against the government, accusing it of separating 300 children from their parents who were arrested and taken to refugee camps four months ago.
Some 3,800 refugees have been relocated to camps on Kenya's northern border since mid-April, the United Nations refugee agency said.
It follows a March 25 government order that 100,000 refugees living in urban areas move to camps as part of a security crackdown initiated after a string of attacks by Islamist militants in retaliation for Kenya's intervention in neighbouring Somalia.
Refugees were transported directly to Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps without the chance to inform their families or collect their children or belongings, rights groups say.
The Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) said it has sued Kenya's Attorney General, the cabinet secretary for the interior and the commissioner for refugee affairs.
"We want to compel the government to reunite the families,” Lucy Kiama, RCK executive director told, Thomson Reuters Foundation on Friday.
Kenyan officials were not immediately available for comment.
Kenyan police arrested thousands of refugees in April in a security operation marred by harassment, extortion and assault, the country's independent police oversight authority said.
Kenya hosts around half a million Somali refugees following its neighbour's collapse into civil war in 1991 and has contributed to an African Union forces fighting Somalia’s al Shabaab Islamist militants.
RISK OF BEING ABUSED
Some of the separated children, who are Somali, Congolese and Ethiopian, have been taken in by neighbours while others are being given food by well-wishers.
"If a child is living with a neighbour they risk being abused and this is our biggest fear right now," Kiama said. "Very soon there will be cases of rape if they have not already taken place."
Charity workers who visited the children found they were distressed and reported missing siblings, according to a report by a child protection group.
In some cases, children aged 12 to 15 were heading households, RCK said.
The children are also being denied their right to education, RCK said.
The government has exempted secondary school children attending public schools from being relocated to the camps. But it has not exempted their parents.
"If you are going to school, you need to go back home to a caretaker," said Kiama.
An application to have the case certified as urgent will be heard on Tuesday.
Other rights groups are helping Somali refugees to appeal a June 30 high court ruling approving the government's urban directive.
(Editing by Katie Nguyen; firstname.lastname@example.org)