High Court Halts Kenya’s Attempt to Encamp Urban Refugees and Stifle Self-sufficiency
Asylum Access has been closely following a landmark case before the High Court of Kenya that will make a determination regarding the fundamental rights of all urban refugees in the country.
The case, which is scheduled to commence mid-March, will determine the validity of a policy recently issued by the Kenyan Government requiring all urban refugees to move from urban residences to overcrowded refugee camps. The policy is said to violate both Kenya’s Constitution and International Law, interfering with a refugee’s fundamental right to freedom of movement, work, education and family. In short, the directive, unless invalidated by the High Court, will stifle a refugee’s chance to live a normal life and be self-sufficient.
The policy was announced in response to a series of grenade attacks in Kenya during late 2012, which have been largely connected to the Somali non-state armed group, Al-Shabaab. Following the attacks, Kenya’s Department of Refugee Affairs published a Press Release on 13 December 2012 requiring all refugees and asylum seekers residing in urban areas to move to Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. On 16 January 2013, the government publicly directed security officials to commence implementing the policy by rounding up refugees and forcing their relocation to camps.
Kenyan-based refugee rights organization, Kituo Cha Sheria, reacted quickly to the policy, lodging a complaint before the High Court shortly after its announcement. On 23 January, the Court responded favorably to the complaint, issuing provisional orders prohibiting Kenyan officials from carrying out the plans, stating:
I am satisfied that in view of the international obligations Kenya has with respect to refugees and the fact that under our Constitution refugees are vulnerable persons, the petitioner has an arguable case before the court.
Although the ruling offers only temporary relief, Asylum Access is embracing the decision as a small, but positive step in the protection of urban refugees against the proposed forced evictions. It remains to be seen whether the High Court will invalidate the policy on a permanent basis. However, the case stands as an important reminder of the role that civil society plays in challenging government policies that fall short of legal obligations to respect, protect and fulfill the fundamental rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
Asylum Access is currently in the process of interviewing refugees and asylum seekers within the Nairobi region to ascertain whether, in practice, Kenyan officials are respecting the Court’s injunction. We intend to publish the conclusions of our investigations. In the interim, Asylum Access strongly urges the Kenyan government to immediately abandon its encampment policy and encourages civil society groups, such as Kituo Cha Sheria, to continue mobilizing support in the effort to hold Kenya accountable to their legal obligations.
By: Anna Wirth
Anna Wirth is the International Law and Policy Fellow at Asylum Access. She previously studied and practiced law in Melbourne, Australia (Monash University) and received her European Master’s in Human Rights and Democratisation (E.MA) from EIUC, in partnership with University of Helsinki.