UNHCR ready to assist refugee group about to be relocated to Kakuma camp

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said today, 18 May 2019, that it was ready to assist a group of refugees and asylum-seekers who are to be relocated by the Kenyan authorities to Kakuma refugee camp. More than 80 people, including 19 women and 35 children, were detained by Kenyan police forces overnight as they were camping outside UNHCR’s offices in Nairobi in breach of local law.

Many of these refugees and asylum-seekers had been protesting in front of UNHCR’s office for more than two weeks, seeking solutions to a range of individual concerns.

The situation deteriorated on Friday, 10 May, when a small number of protesters clashed with police, resulting in several arrests. Then, over the course of last week, further groups of refugees and asylum-seekers gathered in front of the office, many again camping overnight, despite a prohibition on doing so by authorities. Several smaller skirmishes between protesters and police took place during the week.

From the outset of the protest, UNHCR has engaged in an active dialogue with the protestors, listening to their grievances and working with individuals to try to find suitable solutions to their problems, while also urging them to remain calm and abide by the laws of Kenya. In spite of these efforts, a number of protesters remained at the site until last night’s police action.

“While we worked hard to help these refugees, we have always insisted that camping outside our offices next to a busy highway, blocking roads and preventing other refugees from accessing our staff and services was a not a helpful way to resolve individual problems,” said Fathiaa Abdalla, UNHCR’s Representative in Kenya.

Kenya has an encampment policy for refugees and asylum-seekers, requiring them to be registered and to be residing in one of the country’s two refugee camps. Specific permission and documentation from the government to travel and reside outside of the camps is required.

“Upon their arrival in Kakuma, these refugees will be met by our staff. They will be individually counselled and their protection needs assessed,”  said the UN official, noting that special provisions will be made for refugees with particular needs and vulnerabilities.

UNHCR will also closely monitor the situation of those among the group who might face charges and be arrested. There is no indication of the exact number of people who might be in this situation.

“UNHCR is very disappointed that dialogue did not prevail and that the solution offered were not taken by some. UNHCR remains committed to continuing to provide protection and assistance to this group and to the some 475,000 refugees and asylum seekers hosted in Kenya,” she concluded.

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