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Kenya: Government Directive Leads to Severe Abuses and Forced Returns

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In December 2012, the Government of Kenya announced a directive that would force all refugees living in cities to relocate to camps, and shut down all registration and service provision to refugees and asylum-seekers in cities. This effectively empowered Kenyan security services to unleash a wave of abuse against refugees. That Kenya has not yet gone ahead with a forced relocation plan has led some to believe that the worst has been averted. Yet the directive caused severe harm even without being implemented. Many refugees felt forced to leave Nairobi following severe harassment. The directive has also been a set-back to Kenya’s notable advances in enabling urban refugees to support themselves, and it has put the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) global urban refugee policy at risk.

Government Directive Caused Severe Abuse of Refugees

Following the public announcement of Kenya’s directive in mid-December, refugees in Nairobi suffered serious abuse at the hands of security services. During a visit to Nairobi earlier this month, a Refugees International (RI) team heard numerous accounts of those abuses.

Harassment and extortion of refugees by security services in Nairobi is not a new phenomenon, but the reports RI’s team received suggested that the prevalence and severity of this abuse increased significantly following the directive. Members of the security services treated refugees brutally during house-to-house searches and round-ups of individuals. Several refugees informed the RI team that they had been hit in the face by officers, and that large amounts of money and property were taken from them. There were many second-hand accounts of refugees being forced to pay bribes of up to 200,000 Kenyan shillings ($2,200) to secure the release of family members from police custody. Prior to the directive, such bribes were also commonplace, but usually only amounted to 500-2,000 shillings. There have been at least three allegations of rape made by refugees against members of the security services since the directive was issued. Refugees also stated that identity documents issued to them by UNHCR and by the Kenyan government are being disregarded, confiscated, or destroyed by the security services, stripping them of vital legal protections. In fact, several refugees told RI that they feel as though they have no international protection now, and are only protected by the bribes they pay to police.