Human Rights Watch
Saturday, July 27, 2013
Kenya's High Court on July 26, 2013, quashed a
government plan to move 55,000 mostly Somali refugees from the capital,
Nairobi, and other cities to camps, Human Rights Watch said. The court
said the relocation would violate refugees' dignity and free movement
rights, and would risk indirectly forcing them back to Somalia. It also
said the authorities had not proved the move would help protect national
security, following a series of grenade and other attacks in Kenya by
Police subjected Somali and Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers in
Nairobi to 10 weeks of abuse- including torture and rape - in late 2012
and early 2013. The police called the refugees "terrorists" and said
they should move to the camps.
"The court's judgment is a welcome reprieve for Kenya's 55,000 urban
refugees and a reminder that the authorities can't just walk all over
refugees' rights," said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at
Human Rights Watch. "The court's decision should send a strong message
to the authorities that the recent violence and threats against
Nairobi's refugees should end."
The authorities should protect refugees in Nairobi, allow the UN and
refugee groups to assist them, and urgently investigate police officers
responsible for the appalling abuses against refugees in 2012 and 2013,
Human Rights Watch said.
In January, the Kenyan nongovernmental organization Kituo Cha Sheria
(Center for Law) filed a petition challenging the lawfulness of the
December 2012 refugee relocation plan, under which all urban refugees
and asylum seekers were supposed to leave Kenya's cities and move to
squalid, overcrowded, and closed refugee camps.
Kenya's High Court ordered the authorities to suspend the plan until
the court had reached a decision. On July 26, the court ruled that the
plan would violate a range of refugee rights, including their right to
free movement, their right to dignity, and potentially the right not to
be returned to persecution, which the court said would be more likely if
they were "aggressively" forced into squalid camps bordering Somalia.
On January 21, Human Rights Watch called on the authorities to drop
their relocation plan, saying that Kenya had failed to show, as required
by international law, that the plan was either necessary to achieve
enhanced national security or the least restrictive measure possible to
address Kenya's national security concerns. Human Rights Watch said the
plan also unlawfully discriminated against refugees because the policy
allowed Kenyan citizens to move freely and denied refugees that right.
Human Rights Watch also said that transferring tens of thousands of
refugees from the cities to closed refugee camps facing a funding
shortfall of over US$100 million would violate a range of their other
rights, including the right to free movement, the right not to be
forcibly evicted from their homes, and the right not to have reduced
access to basic rights - to food, livelihoods, health care, and
Officials announcing the relocation plan in December said the move
would swiftly be followed by repatriation of Somali refugees to Somalia,
despite the fact that most of south-central Somalia remains extremely
insecure with ongoing conflict, killings, indiscriminate violence
against civilians, and limited access for humanitarian agencies.
Human Rights Watch reiterated its call to the Kenyan authorities not
to press refugees to return to Somalia. Such pressure would violate
Kenya's obligations not to forcibly return - or refoule - refugees to
situations of persecution or generalized violence.
"This judgment should serve as a wake-up call to the authorities
about their most fundamental of obligations towards refugees," Simpson
said. "Kenya's government should never pressure or force refugees back
to places that threaten their lives and freedom."