Refugee law and how it can be used to create jobs for all

Congolese refugees wait in line to board a bus towards a refugee settlement in Sebagoro, Uganda, on February 16, 2018. The UNHCR has raised the red flag over increasing suffering of female refugees across the world.

Photo credit: Photo | Pool

Kenya hosts more than 500,000 refugees, and it's encouraging to see the government renew its commitment to ensuring the economic inclusion of this marginalised population. There are some specific amendments in the Refugees Act that I'm particularly interested in seeing properly implemented.

For instance, the Act provides that any refugees from the East African Community (EAC) can denounce their refugee status and instead take advantage of the rights and privileges in the EAC treaty.

This demonstrates intentionality on the part of the government to synchronise its regional and national policies and also deepen its relationships with its neighbours. Considering about 33 per cent of refugees in Kenya are from South Sudan and DRC, I'm looking forward to seeing this provision implemented for the benefit of these refugees.

While the general tone of the Act is very promising, the issue we must pay attention to is how these rights will be implemented in practice. A good example is the right to work. This right existed under the recently repealed Act, but the process was ambiguous and unpredictable and it came with many hidden costs.

So, while I support the policy, a lot more needs to be done to ensure the rights provided under this Act can be realised. For this to happen, other stakeholders, including the private sector, refugee-focused organisations, and donors, must be willing to work collaboratively with governments to create the necessary implementation frameworks.

Economic activities

The Act reaffirms the government’s commitment to ensure refugees can participate in economic activities, from employment to operating their own businesses. The benefits of this to society are endless, if refugees are able to generate their own income, then the funds they receive as aid can be channelled towards other development needs that benefit both refugees and their host communities. In addition to this, a significant number of refugees operate informal businesses successfully, and if these businesses are formalised then they can be a source of revenue for both national and county governments. Finally, there are many private-sector entities that are interested in working with refugees or in setting up operations in refugee markets, and a clearer legal framework makes it easier for increased private sector activities in these refugee-hosting areas.

There are many misconceptions about refugees and security, or terrorism risks associated with this population.

It’s time to retire this narrative. One of the ways a country can address security concerns for any foreigners residing in their country is by providing them with proper documentation and legal identity that they would use for all activities and transactions. If refugees are issued with refugee IDs in a timely manner, then their bank accounts, Sim cards, and many other activities will be linked to their IDs, and should they choose to engage in any criminal activities then it will be easy to pin down the suspects and address the issue.

Unemployment is a key concern, not just in Kenya, but across the continent. It is estimated that about 12 million African youth enter the labour force each year, yet only about 3 million new jobs are created. Refugees aside, our countries across the continent are not producing enough opportunities for young people, and to resolve this, governments must work with donors and the private sector to develop solutions around unemployment.

 Given this, attempts to integrate refugees into the workforce should not be seen as competition between refugees and citizens, instead, governments should capitalise on this opportunity to engage donors to fund job creation efforts that will open up more economic opportunities for both citizens and refugees.

Mr Fokuo is co-founder, Amahoro Coalition, an African-led initiative that advocates economic inclusion of displaced populations

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