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Washington, DC -- The Kenyan government’s proposed relocation of roughly 100,000 city-dwelling refugees has sparked a wave of abuse by members of the Kenyan security forces, a new report from Refugees International (RI) has found. Despite the illegality of the government’s directive, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Kenya’s Western allies have done little to counter the proposal or its ill effects. The UNHCR must not allow the rights of Kenya’s refugees to be trampled, and the U.S., UK, and EU must press Kenya to meet its legal obligations.
Kenya’s allies have been working hard to make sure that the March presidential elections do not spark the kind of violence that scarred the country in 2008. However, Kenya’s cities are already witnessing widespread attacks by police against refugees. In interviews with refugees and community groups, RI’s team documented numerous beatings, arbitrary arrests, and cases of extortion of up to 200,000 Kenyan shillings ($2,200). Some refugees told RI that they fear their communities might be targeted if post-election violence does break out.
Though the government’s relocation proposal was recently put on hold by the Kenyan High Court, a great deal of damage has already been done. “This plan essentially gave the Kenyan security services carte blanche to brutalize urban refugees, and many are now fleeing Kenya in search of safety elsewhere,” said RI Advocate Mark Yarnell. “One woman told us that her brother had gone back to Somalia because of the police brutality in Nairobi. After he arrived, he was caught by militants and beheaded.”
UNHCR’s recent pledge to work toward a “humane” implementation of Kenya’s relocation plan is counterproductive. Instead, UNHCR should vigorously defend the rights of Kenya’s refugee community, both in court and through diplomatic channels. Kenya’s major allies and donors must also ask Kenya to permanently suspend its relocation plan, investigate allegations of police abuse, and prevent the forced return of refugees.
“If Kenya succeeds in rolling back protections for refugees, there is a good chance that other countries will do the same,” said RI Senior Advocate Melanie Teff. “For decades, Kenya has been a generous host to refugees, including thousands living in its cities. If this directive is implemented, it will be a great stain on Kenya’s international reputation and a travesty for thousands of vulnerable people.”
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.