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Nairobi -- Refugees International (RI) is deeply concerned about Kenya’s recent decision to move 100,000 city-dwelling refugees into camps. This week, RI’s team in Nairobi interviewed refugees who described the fallout of this decision – including violence, harassment, and extortion suffered at the hands of Kenyan security services. RI therefore calls on the Government of Kenya not to pursue this relocation plan, and to ensure that the rights of all refugees are respected.
An internal government letter that emerged this weekend states that Kenya will start its relocation plan by forcibly moving 18,000 refugees starting on January 21. The letter declares that “security officers will start by rounding the refugees and transporting them to Thika Municipal Stadium which will act as the holding ground as arrangement for moving them to the camps are finalized [sic].” Though not yet implemented, this announcement marks the latest in a series of inflammatory government statements that threaten refugees and blame them for recent terrorist attacks.
“We heard accounts of security officials threatening refugees in their homes, arbitrarily arresting them, taking their property, and even sexually assaulting women and girls in front of family members,” RI Advocate Mark Yarnell said from Nairobi. “Many Somali refugees have fled Kenya in recent weeks, including some who were afraid to return to Somalia because of ongoing conflict. Effectively forcing refugees to return prematurely in this way is not going to build sustainable peace in Somalia. Quite the opposite – it actually threatens what stability has been achieved.”
One refugee told RI’s team, “We left our homeland against our will. We thought we could save our lives by running to another country. We thought we would be protected. But now we face the same harassment here as we faced in our homeland, because of the Kenyan government’s directive. These past few weeks in Nairobi, we are feeling that the security forces are treating us like war captives rather than refugees.”
“Kenya has signed international conventions that give refugees freedom of movement, and this decision clearly violates those commitments,” said RI Senior Advocate Melanie Teff. “Kenya has long been a generous host to refugees, and it has allowed many city-dwelling refugees to become self-sufficient and contribute to the country’s economy and society. This plan would set back all of those advances by decades.”
At a press conference in Nairobi on January 22, the Urban Refugee Protection Network – a Kenyan civil society forum – demanded that the Kenyan government end police harassment and abuse of refugees, and voiced concerns about media reports linking refugees to insecurity. RI echoes these concerns and urges Kenya to withdraw its relocation plans immediately.
Refugees International is a non-profit organization that advocates for life-saving protection for displaced and stateless people worldwide and accepts no government or UN funding. For more information, visit www.refugeesinternational.org.