UN Agency Welcomes Kenyan Ruling Upholding Rights of Urban Refugees
The United Nations refugee agency has welcomed the ruling of the High Court of Kenya which upholds the asylum right of
refugees living in urban areas, and expressed hope that the Government will implement the decision quickly and resume
legal services to this vulnerable group.
The decision, reached on 26 July, relates to the “Petition number 19 of 2013” in which refugees challenged a directive
issued by the Government of Kenya in December last year to transfer refugees from urban areas to the refugee camps at
Dadaab and Kakuma.
“The High Court ruled against the directive which had particularly dire consequences for the protection and well-being
of refugee communities in Nairobi and other cities in the country,” said
Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Ms. Lejeune-Kaba told reporters in Geneva that as a result of the directive, Somali refugees and asylum-seekers began to
report increased police harassment, 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,” she said.
As of December, there were a total of 51,000 mainly Somalia urban refugees in Kenya, which hosts a total of some 600,000
“Most of the refugees living in urban areas have developed coping mechanisms, and so do rely on humanitarian
assistance,” said Ms. Lejeune-Kaba. “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.”
In keeping with its mandate, UNHCR appeared in the petition as a “friend of the Court” or “Amicus Curiae” and provided
advice on the applicable international refugee and human rights laws.
The agency said it hopes the Government will implement this 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.
“UNHCR believes that this court decision is important for the jurisprudence on refugees’ rights not only in Kenya but
also around the world,” Ms. Lejeune-Kaba stated.