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UNHCR position on the directive by the Kenyan Government on the relocation of refugees from the urban centres to the refugee camps

Briefing notes

UNHCR position on the directive by the Kenyan Government on the relocation of refugees from the urban centres to the refugee camps

25 January 2013 Also available in:

UNHCR has been in urgent consultations with the Government since December, when the Government of Kenya announced a directive immediately discontinuing the reception and registration of asylum-seekers in Nairobi and other urban areas and for them to all be relocated to the refugee camps.

UNHCR expressed its serious concerns about the impact of the policy from the protection, human rights and humanitarian point of view. In particular, the lives, education and livelihood of thousands of refugees who have settled and lived lawfully in the urban centres for years would be severely disrupted. UNHCR called on the Government not to implement the new directive.

The Government however made clear its determination to go ahead with the enforcement of the policy. UNHCR has since been working to ensure that any such implementation would be properly managed, consistent with essential refugee protection and humanitarian principles and would avoid human suffering. The Government subsequently established an Inter-Ministerial Committee establish how these principals would be assured in implementing the new policy.

When news broke last weekend that a security operation to round up refugees in Nairobi and relocate them to the camps was imminent, UNHCR expressed its concerns to the Government and urged against such an operation being launched.

The Government has since provided assurances that a round-up would not take place and reiterated its readiness to work with UNHCR to ensure that refugee protection principles would be respected. Meanwhile, on 22 January, in an application brought by two refugee rights NGOs, the High Court of Kenya issued an injunction temporarily halting any action to implement the relocation direction pending a full hearing on the matter.

UNHCR is sustaining its efforts with the Government to ensure that in any implementation of the new directive, refugees and asylum-seekers would not be put in harm's way or their vital protection and human rights transgressed as unfortunately often happens in operations of this nature and scale.

UNHCR also hopes that the Organization's urban refugee policy that has been supported by the Kenyan Government as the best way forward for refugees who are able to fend for themselves and participate in the development of their host communities will remain in effect. This policy underlines that cities are legitimate and critical places for refugees to reside and exercise the rights to which they are entitled.

There are currently 56,000 asylum seekers and refugees registered with UNHCR in Nairobi and other urban centres in Kenya. The largest segment of this group is made up of Somalis (33,844) followed by Ethiopians (10,568) and nationals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (7,046). A minority comes from Eritrea, South Sudan and the Great Lakes.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kenya (Nairobi): Emmanuel Nyabera on mobile +254 733 995 975
  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483