Kenya: Refugees appeal against forced relocation to camps

Refugees in Nairobi are appealing against a controversial ruling that would force thousands of Somalis from their homes to live in squalid overcrowded camps in north Kenya, Amnesty International said today.

“This outrageous ruling affects the entire refugee population of Nairobi. Using the pretext of protecting national security, the Kenyan authorities have cracked down on refugees, effectively destroying any form of stability they may have managed to build after seeking refuge in Kenya,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Eastern Africa.

“Thousands of people’s lives have been destroyed. Tens of thousands more are at serious risk.”

The Somali refugees are appealing against a 30 June ruling made by High Court Judge Justice Majanja that stated that the relocation of refugees from urban centres is constitutional.

This High Court decision directly contradicts the previous ruling by Justice Majanja of July 2013. Then, he found that forcibly relocating refugees to camps would violate their human rights, dignity and freedom of movement, and would risk indirectly forcing them back to Somalia.

He also said in the earlier decision that the state had not proved the move would help protect the country’s national security. Despite the fact that the government has still not demonstrated that forced encampment policies improve national security, Justice Majanja was silent on this key point in the current judgement.

“It is hard to comprehend how this turnaround has come about. Justice Majanja has found the current directive to be constitutional when refugee rights are so clearly violated by its very nature. Refugees have already suffered extreme abuse as a result of the directive,” said Michelle Kagari.

“The judgement has given the Kenyan government a green-light to continue its outright abuse and blanket punishment of refugees.”

The original order, that all refugees should go to camps, was issued by Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government, Joseph Ole Lenku on 26 March.

Shortly after, thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers were rounded up and subjected to arbitrary arrest, harassment, extortion and ill-treatment.

Thousands have been forcibly relocated to the camps, while hundreds of others have been expelled to Somalia, a country experiencing an ongoing conflict and where security is deteriorating. More than 300 children have been separated from their families as a result, people’s livelihoods have been disrupted and children are no longer going to school.

Forced encampment contravenes Kenya’s obligations under international law.

The Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps were already overcrowded and insecure before over 5,000 people, mostly Somalis, were relocated there following Ole Lenku’s order. No provisions were made for the tens of thousands of people expected to follow. Food is scarce, access to education and health services are extremely strained, and there is little space for people to find shelter.

With tens of thousands of people flooding over the border from the raging conflict in South Sudan, people in the refugee camps are facing a looming humanitarian crisis, which is partly of the government’s making.

Hussein Mohamed Haji, Chairman of the Eastleigh Community Association,told Amnesty International that the decision to force the Somali community into the camps was a devastating blow:

“In 2006, we were welcomed in Kenya and given alien cards. We were told by immigration that the only thing we could not do in Kenya was to vote or be voted for. We opened banks, we started businesses and some of us bought property. How can we go to the camps, and how can we run our businesses if we are forced to the camps? We just don’t know what do to.”