UNHCR welcomes court ruling on refugees

Somalia refugees wait to be screened by United Nations High Commission for Refugees officials at the Dadaab camp in this file photo. UNHCR has welcomed Kenya’s High Court ruling which stopped the government’s plans to relocate urban refugees July 30, 2013.

The United Nations refugee agency has welcomed Kenya’s High Court ruling which stopped the government’s plans to relocate urban refugees.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) said the government directive issued last December to move the refugees to camps in Dadaab and Kakuma resulted in their harassment by police, detention and extortion mainly in Nairobi.

"Many of them could not move about freely and fear of such treatment led hundreds of Somali refugees to return to Somalia or move to neighbouring countries,” UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba said during a press briefing in Geneva.

According to the agency, when the directive was issued there were a total of 51,000 mainly Somalia urban refugees in Kenya.

"Most of the refugees living in urban areas have developed coping mechanisms, and so do rely on humanitarian assistance. There are also large numbers of refugee children attending schools in urban areas whose education would have been compromised had the relocation order been carried out,” the official said.

UNHCR appeared in the petition as a "friend of the Court" and provided advice on the applicable international refugee and human rights laws.

In its ruling, the Court stated that the government did not show that the plans to relocate the refugees would heighten the country’s national security.

Ms Lejeune-Kaba said UNHCR hoped the government will implement the “important constitutional decision” and move fast to resume legal services that were suspended pending the court process.

"These include the registration and issuance of documents to refugees and asylum seekers, which are essential for their freedom of movement, access to social and community benefits, as well as their protection against arbitrary arrest,” read her statement which was posted on the agency’s website.

Currently, Kenya hosts some 600,000 refugees.

The UN has maintained that such a move should be done voluntarily and only when the security situation in the previously war-torn country has sufficiently improved.

The petition filed by legal aid organisation Kituo Cha Sheria contested the legality of the relocation plan in January, and the court ordered the plan suspended pending its decision.

Last month, Kenya and Somalia formed a joint task force to supervise the voluntary repatriation of Somalia refugees.

The Director of the Office of the Great Lakes Region Ken Vitisia said Kenya would lobby for the return of Somali refugees during the regional leaders' meeting in Nairobi this week.

He said the hosting of Somalia refugees has become an unbearable “burden” and that the government would lobby for the region to take a “common stand” on the issue.

“It is in Kenya’s interest that we don’t have regional conflicts because we are a trading nation. If we have peace and stability in the region, it means we can trade more,” Mr Vitisia told reporters.