UNHCR welcomes Kenya High Court decision on urban refugee rights

Briefing Notes, 30 July 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 30 July 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR welcomes the High Court of Kenya's ruling which upholds the asylum right of urban refugees. The decision, reached on 26 July, relates to the "Petition number 19 of 2013" in which refugees challenged a directive issued by the Government of Kenya in December last year to transfer refugees from urban areas to the refugee camps at Dadaab and Kakuma.

The High Court ruled against the directive which had particularly dire consequences for the protection and well-being of refugee communities in Nairobi and other cities in the country.

Indeed, as a result of the directive Somali refugees and asylum seekers began to report increased police harassment, detention and extortion mainly in Nairobi. Many of them could not move about freely and fear of such treatment led hundreds of Somali refugees to return to Somalia or move to neighboring countries.

As of December, there were a total of 51,000 mainly Somalia urban refugees in Kenya.

Most of the refugees living in urban areas have developed coping mechanisms, and so do rely on humanitarian assistance. There are also large numbers of refugee children attending schools in urban areas whose education would have been compromised had the relocation order been carried out.

In keeping with its mandate, UNHCR appeared in the petition as a "friend of the Court" or "Amicus Curiae" and provided advice on the applicable international refugee and human rights laws.

UNHCR hopes that the government will implement this important constitutional decision and move fast to resume legal services that were suspended pending the court process. These include the registration and issuance of documents to refugees and asylum seekers, which are essential for their freedom of movement, access to social and community benefits, as well as their protection against arbitrary arrest.

UNHCR believes that this court decision is important for the jurisprudence on refugees' rights not only in Kenya but also around the world.

Kenya hosts some 600,000 refugees.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kenya (Nairobi): Emmanuel Nyabera on mobile +254 733 995 975
  • In Geneva: Daniel MacIsaac on mobile +41 79 200 7617
  • Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 34 83
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UNHCR country pages

Urban Refugees

More than half the refugees UNHCR serves now live in urban areas

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Dire Times in Dadaab

Angelina Jolie's visit to Dadaab in north-east Kenya puts a spotlight on the overcrowded camp complex, home to tens of thousands of refugees.

When UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited Dadaab in north-east Kenya on September 12, 2009, she saw first-hand some of the tough conditions that tens of thousands of refugees must live in. The overcrowded three-camp complex is home to more than 285,000 mainly Somali refugees, making it the largest refugee settlement in the world. The camps were established in the early 1990s and were intended for a maximum of 90,000 people. Up to 7,000 people are now arriving every month to escape continuing conflict in Somalia. Jolie talked to residents about their daily life and their exile. These images show her meetings with the refugees of Dadaab and show some of the conditions they live in. Aside from overcrowding, they face water shortages, crammed classrooms, health problems, the coming rainy season and a range of other difficulties. UNHCR hopes new land will be allocated soon for the new arrivals.

Dire Times in Dadaab

Climate change and displacement

In the past few years, millions of people have been displaced by natural disasters, most of which are considered to be the direct result of climate change. Sudden weather events, such as Myanmar's Cyclone Nargis in 2008, widespread flooding in Kenya's Dadaab refugee camps in 2006 and the drought that hit Ethiopia in the 1980s, can leave huge numbers of people traumatized and without access to shelter, clean water and basic supplies.

The international community has entrusted UNHCR with responsibility for protecting and assisting people who are forcibly displaced and who cannot return safely home. Although the majority of people displaced by climate change will remain within their own borders, where states have clearly defined responsibilities, additional support may be required.

When called upon to intervene, UNHCR can deploy emergency teams and provide concrete support in terms of registration, documentation, family reunification and the provision of shelter, basic hygiene and nutrition.

Among those who are displaced across borders as a result of climate change, some will be refugees while others may not meet the definition. Nevertheless, many may be in need of protection and assistance.

Climate change and displacement

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Somalia: Solutions For Somali RefugeesPlay video

Somalia: Solutions For Somali Refugees

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.
Kenya: Hawa's Dilemma Play video

Kenya: Hawa's Dilemma

When Hawa was a child, her father was murdered by rebels and her mother was kidnapped. Later Hawa was jailed and raped. When she was released, she fled to Kenya, where she now lives as a refugee. No one chooses to be a refugee.