Kenya + 5 more

Kenya: Government reconsidering encampment policy for refugees

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NAIROBI, 4 February (IRIN) - The Kenyan government is reviewing its policy of keeping the country's refugee population in camps in the north of the country.
"The indications from the government [Ministry of Home Affairs] are that they will review the encampment policy so that refugees will become producers, not just consumers," a spokesman from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Emmanuel Nyabera, told IRIN on Tuesday.

The much-criticised encampment policy has placed about 220,000 people in two camps in the extremely arid regions of Kakuma (Turkana) and Dadaab (Garissa). They are denied the right to own cattle or cultivate, move freely, work, or integrate with local people, thus rendering them entirely dependent on humanitarian hand-outs.

"The government has indicated that it would be willing to review the policy with a view to allowing refugees to farm and produce goods," said Nyabera. This could refer to them being resettled in more productive areas than those they were currently in, he said.

In discussions held over the last two weeks, the government had indicated that Kenya's refugee policy was to be made a priority, Nyabera said. Kenya's first national refugee legislation (currently a pending bill) was due to be introduced soon, and the government had expressed an interest in becoming more involved in management of the refugee camps, and in the refugee status- determination and registering process, he said. Currently these are managed almost exclusively by the UN agency.

Plans were also under way to introduce joint UNHCR/government ID cards for refugees, he said.

In a separate development, the World Food Programme (WFP) confirmed to IRIN that the US government had donated 6,280 mt of food for the camps to help ease current food shortages. The food would arrive at Mombasa port in May, and in the meantime WFP would borrow against this pledge.

In February, the average food ration given to each refugee would be 1,878 kilocalories, Paulette Jones, a WFP spokeswoman confirmed, adding that if more donations were not received, rations would have to be cut further. In January, rations in both camps were cut from 2,120 kilocalories per day to about 1,600.

An appeal launched this month by an umbrella of church-affiliated groups, Action by Churches Together, reported that almost 45 percent of families were eating only one meal per day in Kakuma. Firewood supplied by UNHCR met only 30 percent of cooking needs, which meant that some families were unable to eat even when they had food, the report said. Water was also in short supply, due to disrepair of water storage facilities and taps, in a region where temperatures averaged 35 degrees Celsius.

[ENDS]

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