Kenya: government registers refugees and migrants

On 14 February, the Kenyan government began registering migrants in Mombasa, Kisumu and Nakuru, as well as the North Eastern Province bordering Ethiopia and Somalia. The official objective of the process is to determine the number of migrants living in urban centres and to regularise their immigration status. Launching the exercise in Nairobi, immigration minister Gideon Konchellah said the census will also enable the government to plan their welfare to improve security.
In the past the government has repeatedly blamed the rising wave of crime on the presence of irregular migrants, most of whom the government said came from neighbouring countries where weapons could be obtained easily. The minister assured that none of those participating in the process would be victimised.

The minister stated that the security of refugees and asylum seekers is a fundamental responsibility of the government. However, he added that there is a large population of undocumented migrants living in Kenya without the necessary papers and that they pose a major challenge to national security.

In June 2005, the government instructed the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to ensure that all asylum seekers were registered with its office and to ensure that refugees were in possession of valid documentation.

"We welcome the initiative and we urge refugees to participate in it. We hope it will mean that refugees will now be in a position to register their businesses, as most of them were unable to do so with their UNHCR documents", said Ms Norah Ochieng, Regional Advocacy Officer, JRS Eastern Africa.

"Many refugees with valid UNHCR papers have been arrested and detained. With this registration process, we hope that documents issued by the Kenyan government will be more familiar to the authorities than the UNHCR papers have been and that the number of refugees arrested will decrease", added Ms Ochieng.

"It is unfortunate that the registration exercise has not been extended to the refugee camps. There is a risk that refugees might leave the camps for Nairobi to get this document, causing an influx of refugees in urban areas", Ms Ochieng told Dispatches.

The east African nation hosts over 230,000 refugees from 10 African countries. Even though exemptions are made in specific circumstances, Kenya's law requires registered asylum seekers and refugees to live in one of the country's two designated refugee camps, Dadaab in the east and Kakuma in the northwest.

The refugee population is expected to reduce drastically given the return of relative peace in neighbouring Somalia and Sudan where most refugees in Kenya are from. Early this year, the UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement with Kenya and Sudan to facilitate voluntary repatriation for Sudanese refugees.