UNHCR welcomes Kenya’s decision to end statelessness for the Pemba people


UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, commends the Government of Kenya’s pronouncement to bring to an end to the long-term problem of statelessness for the Pemba people in Kenya.

The announcement by Kenyan President William Ruto came during celebrations to mark Kenya’s 59th Jamhuri Day on 12 December 2022. President Ruto announced that the Government of Kenya will initiate modalities to recognize the Pemba people as citizens of Kenya.

“Once again, Kenya has demonstrated leadership in the aim to end statelessness around the world. This decision will ensure that the Pemba people will get access to the rights they deserve. UNHCR stands ready to support the process,” said Caroline van Buren, UNHCR’s Representative to Kenya.

UNHCR together with partners stands ready to continue providing technical and operational support to the Government to ensure stateless populations are registered (as Kenyans) and able to swiftly obtain documents including birth certificates, registration certificates, and Kenyan IDs.

In recent years, Kenya has made important strides in efforts to resolve statelessness by registering as Kenyan citizens thousands of previously stateless persons, including among the Makonde and Shona communities and those of Indian descent.

The goodwill on the part of the Government of Kenya is an important step towards resolving the legal limbo of the Pemba community, who have suffered many years of exclusion due to their lack of recognized citizenship and conclusive proof of nationality. The registration and issuance of individual citizenship documentation will enable the Pemba to fully contribute to Kenyan society and contribute to local development as well as to enjoy their rights as nationals, including through access to education, healthcare, social protection, financial services, livelihoods opportunities, and other national programmes.

The Pemba community is estimated to be around 7,000 individuals who reside mainly in Kenya’s coastal region, mainly in Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu and Mombasa counties, but their actual number is believed to be much higher. To that end, UNHCR and its partners are currently supporting efforts by the community to collect updated data on its members living in Kenya, who are mainly engaged in fishing along the coast, farming, and trading.

This latest decision reinforces the Government of Kenya’s commitment to fulfill its pledges made at the High-Level Segment on Statelessness in October 2019. UNHCR encourages the Government of Kenya to implement the remaining pledges, including to accede to the two UN statelessness conventions and to undertake legal reforms to eradicate statelessness in Kenya. Key reforms are also needed to amend the provisions in the Kenyan Citizenship and Immigration Act to provide a legal framework for the registration of stateless persons and the extension of the mandate of the Taskforce on Statelessness to steer the modalities for identification and registration of stateless persons who are eligible for Kenyan citizenship.

There are currently an estimated 16,800 stateless persons in Kenya comprised of individuals from the Pemba and Makonde communities and persons of Rwandan and Burundian descent. This is in addition to several smaller minority groups of persons at risk of statelessness. UNHCR urges the Government of Kenya to redouble efforts to find solutions for the remaining stateless communities, particularly the stateless people of Burundi and Rwandan descent and to ensure they have swift access to Kenyan citizenship and documentation. UNHCR urges the Government of Kenya to reinstate its national statelessness and identification taskforce.

UNHCR remains committed to working with and providing support to the Government of Kenya and other partners, including affected populations, to further identify, prevent and resolve statelessness in Kenya and to achieve the goals of the #IBelong Campaign to end statelessness by 2024.

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