Kenya + 2 more

Kenya bill to help refugees towards self-sufficiency

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NAIROBI, Feb 17 (Reuters) - A refugee bill which Kenya's new government hopes to enact this year will allow thousands of immigrants to farm or even seek legal employment in the country, Home Affairs Minister Moody Awori said on Monday.

Aid agencies say there are around two 220,000 refugees from the Horn of Africa, most from Sudan and Somalia, living in two camps in northern Kenya.

Driven from home by war, most have continued to live in hardship in Kenya's parched northern province in semi-permanent housing. Awori said recently that moves were afoot to try and relocate the camps, to help refugees become self-sufficient.

"The big problem is how can we help them look after themselves. Currently the location of the camps is very inhospitable. We're trying to see if there's a place that has water," the minister told Reuters.

Under the new law, refugees would have better status complete with government and U.N. identity cards. They would not only be entitled to shelter but would also have access to land to till. They could also conduct petty trade.

"As they become registered, they will be allowed to join the labour market, if they qualify," Awori, who said the law could be enacted by October.

Clustered in mud huts in the camps of Kakuma and Dadaab, the refugees have had little opportunity to eke out a living in the semi-arid north, making them almost entirely dependent on food aid.

Lack of funds has forced the United Nations to cut rations in both camps, and warnings of further food shortages ahead have forced the government to address the problem.

"Food appeals will become a thing of the past," Emmanuel Nyabera, spokesman for the UNHCR Kenya programme.

He said South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania have similar legislation.

Refugees have been blamed for Kenya's growing crime levels. Analysts say many carjackings and armed break-ins have been facilitated by the increased number of small arms which come through the porous borders with war-torn nations.

The U.N. refugee agency estimates there are at least another 15,000 refugees living illegally. Awori said the government would also screen refugees and monitor arms movement.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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