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Kenya's Courts Deliver Good News for Refugees

By Melanie Teff

Since December, when the Government of Kenya announced that all city-dwelling refugees must move into camps, the situation for tens of thousands refugees has become unbearable. But the good news today is that the Kenyan High Court has granted a temporary order prohibiting the government from implementing its plans.

I arrived in Nairobi on Monday and have since met with many refugees who have been living in a state of fear because of the government's proposal. Since it was announced, members of the Kenyan security services have treated urban refugees terribly. Life here has never been easy for these people, and they are accustomed to police demanding bribes. But these refugees told me that over the past few weeks this harassment has reached unprecedented levels.

Security forces are telling refugees that they are not allowed to be in the city, and have begun threatening them and treating them very brutally. Some told me that officers are now demanding 6,000 to 200,000 Kenyan Shillings ($70 to $2,200) to avoid being held in detention and/or sent to the refugee camps. This harassment has already driven many refugees to flee Nairobi since December.

My colleague, Mark Yarnell, and I recently met with a group of refugees in the office of an NGO here in Nairobi. One woman told me that she was scared to even return home from the meeting “because I don’t know what will happen to me. The police could stop me and jail me, or send me to a camp where I don’t feel safe, harass me, or rape me.”

Today’s court order might not stop these abuses straight away, but it is nonetheless extremely important. The judge in the case prevented the government from implementing its decisions to stop reception and registration of newly-arrived refugees, as well as its plan to relocate all city-dwelling refugees and asylum seekers to the Daadab and Kakuma refugee camps. The judge said, “I am satisfied that in view of the international obligations Kenya has with respect to refugees and the fact that under our Constitution refugees are vulnerable persons, the petitioner has an arguable case before the court.”

It is essential that news of this court ruling is spread widely to ameliorate the fearful situation facing Kenya’s 100,000 urban refugees. This court case also has potentially important implications for refugees living in other cities around the world. Unfortunately, the order only stands until February 4, when the case goes back to court. Watch this space for updates on its progress.

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