‘The first step of being a refugee is accepting who you are…’ these were the words of one Pierre at the Refugee Business Forum held on 17th June, 2015 at The University of Nairobi.
The World Refugee Day was passed by the UN General Assembly through resolution 55/76 in 2001 as a commemoration of the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees. Historically speaking the world has had refugees since the World War 1. The refugee situation has spread throughout the world in the past years. The UN refugee agency reported on World Refugee Day 2014 that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people has for the first time in the post-World War II era exceeded 50 million people.
The legal framework for refugees is the 1951 convention relating to the status of refugees; The 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees; The 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. In Kenya more specifically we have the Refugee Act, 2006 as the law governing the well being of refugees.
A refugee is defined in Article 1 of the UN convention as a person owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable owing to such fear or unwilling to avail himself to the protection of that country. This is the same definition given under the Refugee Act of Kenya.
Refugees just like citizens of their country of asylum are bound by the law in that country. For example refugees in Kenya are bound by Kenyan laws. However they are not able to enjoy all the rights that are founded in those laws. An example is where refugees in Kenya cannot enjoy voting rights. However the threshold is that they get to enjoy the basic rights such as education and health.
In Kenya refugees are managed by the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) and the United Nations High commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Once an asylum seeker gets into Kenya they have up to 30 days to report to DRA for registration and documentation. They are then presented to UNHCR for further documentation. After registration one gets the decision from their refugee status determination interview (RSD) after at least 90 days. After this decision they have at least 30 days to appeal to the refugee appeals board. They have a further option of appealing further if they are unhappy with the judgment to the High Court in 21 days.
It is important to note that once a person undergoes an RSD interview then they get the chance of being granted refugee status hence being recognized as a refugee. Refugees have identification documentation which includes a mandate; a refugee certificate; asylum seeker pass; DRA recognition letter amongst others.
It is important to note that there are two categories of refugees. These are camp based refugees and urban refugees. Camp based refugees solely rely on donor support and only have ration cards as their documentation. Currently in Kenya there are two camps i.e. Dadaab and Kakuma. It is important to note that the Kenyan legal policy now is that all refugees are to be camp-based as per judicial decisions like the recent security laws amendment act decision. On the other hand urban based refugees solely depend on themselves. However they have documentation that enables them to stay in urban areas. There are exemptions as to why refugees sometimes are allowed in to the urban areas. Some of these reasons are because of health or education related issues. For one to leave the camp they have to be issued movement passes that are valid for a certain period of time.
It is also important to acknowledge the contribution that refugees bring to our country. Refugees run their own enterprises while some have even employed Kenyans. Kenya’s economy should take advantage and replicate policies from countries like the USA on fully utilizing the refugee contribution in our country.
Finally it is important to note that indeed refugees are people like you and me. Bottom line is that we are all human beings.
Julie K. Matoke
Forced Migration Department