Kenya + 2 more

Kenya-Sudan: UN official calls for refugee law

NAIROBI, 5 December (IRIN) - UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees Mary Ann Wyrsch on Tuesday stressed the need for the Kenyan government to enact national refugee legislation to ensure the rights of some 218,00 refugees being housed by the east African country are upheld.
"The situation of long-term refugees can be regularised if there are appropriate and fulsome legislative frameworks to govern their asylum," Wyrsch said at a press conference in Nairobi on Tuesday.

Wyrsch said continuing conflict and political instability in neighbouring Sudan and Somalia meant many refugees were likely to remain in Kenya for some time, and so their lives needed to be brought into the scope of Kenyan law. She expressed hope, however, that "in the longer geopolitical context return will be available to these people."

As part of a mission to Eritrea, Uganda and Kenya, Wyrsch visited the Dadaab and Kakuma camp complexes in eastern and northwestern Kenya respectively, which together house over 210,000 mainly Somali and Sudanese refugees.

A final draft of national refugee legislation was shared with the Kenyan Ministry of Home Affairs in 1999, but is still awaiting enactment in the Kenyan parliament, according to UNHCR. Although the Kenyan administration has develped some specific refugee policies, there is no legal code "to ensure refugees rights are respected," and legislation is needed to "provide answers to the outstanding questions regarding refugee rights in Kenya," UNHCR regional spokesman Paul Stromberg told IRIN on Tuesday 4 December.

Wyrsch told journalists she had discussed with Kenyan government representatives during her visit the importance of finalising the country's refugee registration process. The registration of Kenya's refugee population, which was started at the beginning of last year and is yet to be completed, was essential to improve the security of refugees in Kenya, she said.

According to the UNHCR global report for 2000 some Kenyan politicians have openly suggested that the presence of refugees in Kenya has contributed to insecurity in the country, and that Nairobi's rising crime rate could be partly attributed to the city's almost 8,000 urban refugees. Where refugees had moved outside the camps, they had sometimes been mistaken for illegal immigrants, had been arrested, and sometimes been the subject of violent attacks, George Okoth-Obbo UNHCR Nairobi branch representative said on Tuesday.

According to Stromberg, the registration process aimed to provide refugees with registration cards wherever possible, in order to provide them with some proof of their official refugee status. "If refugees had explicit refugee documents their movements would be more regularised," Wyrsch said.

Wyrsch also commented on the fate of the remaining Sudanese "lost boys" currently being housed in Kenya, whose planned resettlement in the United States had been delayed following the 11 September terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

"Resettlement activity in third countries was curtailed due to a lack of travel options, and is just now being opened up," she said. The remaining "lost boys" would be the first to leave for the US when departures resume, UNHCR said.

Some 3,800 Sudanese youth from Kakuma camp have been accepted for resettlement in the US in recent months. The youth became known as the "lost boys" when they were separated from their parents during the civil war in 1987 and fled on foot more than 1,000 km to neighbouring Ethiopia. Some 10,000 eventually reached Kakuma in 1992, but many later left the camp before the US resettlement scheme began.

US President George W Bush on 21 November increased the quota for refugee resettlement from Africa to the US from 20,000 to 22,000, with the region covered by the US embassy in Nairobi accounting for 16,000 of these places, the UN refugee agency reported in its 'Update of Developments in the East and Horn of Africa' for November.

[ENDS]

[This Item is Delivered to the English Service of the UN's IRIN humanitarian information unit, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. For further information, free subscriptions, or to change your keywords, contact e-mail: Irin@ocha.unon.org or Web: http://www.irinnews.org . If you re-print, copy, archive or re-post this item, please retain this credit and disclaimer. Reposting by commercial sites requires written IRIN permission.]

Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 2001