Urban Refugees of Kenya Await their Fate: Updates on the High Court Case
For many refugees residing in the urban regions of Kenya, business cannot be run as usual. As the High Court case of Kituo Cha Sheria v. Attorney General remains underway, members from the urban refugee community in Nairobi reported to Asylum Access that they fear participating in society as usual while their right to work and move freely outside refugee camps hang in the balance.
As previously reported by Asylum Access, the Kenyan government issued a directive in late 2012 and again in early 2013 to force all urban refugees to relocate to the already overcrowded refugee camps of Dadaab and Kakuma. Reports from human rights organizations emerged soon after the directive’s announcement, stating that as a result of the policies, refugees in Kenya’s urban centers, particularly those in Somali enclaves, had been subjected to a wide range of abuses, including police harassment, violence, discrimination, bribery and arbitrary detention. Local NGO Kituo Cha Sheria challenged the policies before the High Court, and on 23 January, the Court issued provisional orders to halt the implementation of the policy.
Since the High Court injunction, Asylum Access has been interviewing refugees within Nairobi and members of local refugee rights organizations to discover whether initial allegations of rights violations were accurate and whether officials are respecting the Court’s provisional order in practice.
Our findings have confirmed that immediately following the government’s directive, refugees in Nairobi were subjected to a number of serious rights violations as originally reported. Violations were said to be most severe in the Eastern region of Eastleigh in Nairobi, where many, if not most, urban refugees reside. As one respondent explained, police began conducting paramilitary raids on houses in Eastleigh in December. Many refugees, according to reports, hid within their homes, too afraid to leave the house for work or otherwise. Others were arbitrarily detained by police or fled at the first opportunity, no longer viewing Kenya as a place of protection. Almost all refugees reported that police officials accepted bribes to discourage arrests and detainment.
Following the Court’s injunction on 23 January, it appears that, while fear remained, arbitrary arrests, detention and widespread police discrimination subsided somewhat. Only one respondent had knowledge of a Somali refugee being arrested and detained arbitrarily after the injunction. Based on these reports, it seems that the injunction to prevent the “round-up” of urban refugees has largely been observed by police officials as hoped.
The fear that the policy could take effect once more, however, is still on the minds of consulted refugees. As one respondent remarked:
“I am still insecure that the Kenyan government will approve the decision again and could take me to the refugee camp, a place that is very poorly organized and has no standard for human living.’’
It is unclear when the High Court will issue its final verdict as the case has been adjourned on a number of occasions awaiting the Kenyan government’s reply to the petition. UNHCR joined the Court case on 4 February as amicus curie, however it is also unclear when it will be publishing the brief. Asylum Access will continue to keep watch of the case and will issue further blog updates as we learn more.
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.