UNHCR expresses concerns; calls for restraint after refugee protest takes violent turn

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, expressed its concerns today after a protest organized by a group of refugees in front of the UNHCR office in Nairobi, Kenya, took a violent turn. UNHCR is calling for restraint, dialogue and a peaceful resolution to the situation.

“We regret that, despite our continuous efforts to engage with and offer solutions to protestors, the situation has deteriorated over the past 48 hours, with some refugees blocking roads and coming into direct physical confrontation with a small number of police officers,” said Fathiaa Abdalla, UNHCR’s Representative in Kenya.

Over the course of the last two weeks, approximately 100 refugees and asylum seekers, including women and children, have camped in front of UNHCR’s office in Kenya. From the outset of the situation, UNHCR staff have been in regular contact with the group to understand their grievances and address them, and to offer its assistance.

Since Wednesday, a small number of persons in the group have started escalating the protests, encouraging demonstrators to block nearby roads and preventing our staff and others from entering or leaving our premises. Threats were also made against specific UNHCR staff members and some security guards were beaten up.

Today, additional police forces were deployed to control the situation, after several protestors began throwing rocks and confronting law enforcement official. Police had to use teargas to disperse the crowd and arrested 17 people.

“Fortunately, there have been no report of serious injuries. The situation, although largely calm, remains unpredictable,” noted Abdalla.

“We will continue to closely follow events. We urge the group to stop preventing other refugees, some in a very vulnerable situation, from accessing our premises and receiving the counselling, protection and assistance that they need. We really hope that the violence of a few will not negatively impact the many other refugees living in Kenya,” she added.

Breaking the laws of their host country can only make the already difficult situation of this group of refugees worse, and risks encouraging anti-refugee sentiments, she noted.

“UNHCR remains committed to providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers, and we continue to advocate with all concerned for dialogue and a peaceful resolution to the current situation,” concluded the UNHCR official.


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