Kituo Reaffirms Commitment to Safeguarding Refugee Rights in Celebrating World Refugees Day 2019
Access to JusticeJune 20, 20190 CommentsKituo Cha Sheria
The world is currently witnessing the worst refugee crisis in history. The number of people fleeing their countries is on the rise, a phenomenal that is increasingly creating social and economic problems especially to the host countries. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) figures, the current refugee numbers in the World stand at 70.8 million people, the highest numbers ever recorded. This has been brought about mainly due to the increased conflicts around the globe.
The 1951 Refugee Convention defines a refugee as one who ‘’owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.’’
Kenya is now the second biggest refugee-hosting country in Africa after Ethiopia with the current figures estimated to be over 600,000. The country hosts a large asylum-seeking population due to the country’s location which is in a conflict-prone area. Neighboring countries like Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have experienced ongoing civil wars that have caused internal and external displacements of their population. While most people fleeing from South Sudan and Ethiopia arrive in the refugee camp in Kakuma, those from Somalia flee to Dadaab, in Garissa County.
Across the world, agencies, both governmental and non-governmental, work tirelessly to help refugees, but with the numbers ever rising, more help and awareness is constantly needed to ensure that refugees are treated fairly and provided for, rather than being neglected or shunned. Most refugees are vulnerable and in need, and are often misunderstood and maligned; and often have very little of the basic things such as food. Most of them however, are not aware of the rights and freedoms they are entitled to as refugees making them even more vulnerable to abuse and mistreatment. Such rights include the right to housing, education, health, access to court services and the right to identity and travel documents. Refugees are also entitled to the freedom of movement within territorial boundaries and the freedom of religion.
Kenya is a signatory to a number of international agreements that are meant to protect refugees and asylum refugees. For instance, the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1969 African Union Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa compels the government to adhere to the provisions that seeks to protect refugees, including guaranteeing the above mentioned rights and freedoms.
Kenya has also enacted several laws in respect to this, key among them being the Refugees Act, 2006 which mandates the government department in charge of refugee affairs, currently the Refugees Affairs Secretariat to undertake programs that safeguards the rights of refugees.
Kituo Cha Sheria through its Forced Migration Program has over the years sought to safeguard the rights of the refugees. This it has done through intervening in legal problems faced by the refugees especially those residing in urban centers. Such challenges include registration, repatriation, resettlement as well as access to services such as health and education. Kituo has represented numerous refugees in court cases facing them.
It is illegal for the Government of Kenya to send refugees living in urban areas with appropriate paper work to refugee camps, or deport them to their country of origin. However, the government has at times gone against this legal provision and issued statements ordering all refugees to move to camps. This lack of clarity means that refugees in urban areas are often the subject of arrests, harassments and intimidation from both the public and government officials.
Kituo’s FMP, realizing the lack of awareness about refugees’ rights and responsibilities among the refugees, has also sought to provide information on refugee rights by conducting numerous legal awareness forums in different parts of the country. Such forums are usually accompanied with a free legal aid clinic where refugees with different legal problems get a chance to talk to lawyers who attend to them, offering appropriate advice and assistance.
Several landmark court rulings have also been issued after Kituo Cha Sheria’s interventions. Key among them was the ruling which overturned the government’s decision to close down the Dadaab and Kakuma Refugee camps as well as forcing the government to abort its plan to close down the Refugees Affairs Secretariat. This shows just how instrumental Kituo has been over the years in the protection of refugees and asylum seekers’ rights over the years.
On this year’s World Refugee Day, Kituo Cha Sheria joins the world to affirm its commitment to safeguarding refugee rights through addressing legal problems of refugees and asylum seekers under this year’s theme: Step With Refugees. Kituo also believes in the power of information and it is in this regard that the Organization will seek to continue with its awareness programs in the future.
RCKM, Kituo Cha Sheria