Failure to register new Somali refugees exposing them to risk

Tuesday February 20 2018

Somali refugees in Dadaab.

Somali refugees fetching water in Dadaab. The government must fulfil its obligations to refugees and respect court rulings upholding their rights. FILE PHOTO | AFP 


It has been a year since the government’s plan to shut down Dadaab refugee camp was scuppered.

The High Court deemed the decision unconstitutional and ordered the government to continue granting asylum to new Somali refugees.

But if anyone thought the ruling would herald the end of years of suffering for the refugees, they will by now be bitterly disappointed.

The government, while not overtly rejecting the ruling, has quietly disregarded it, mainly by denying refugees registration and much-needed identity documents.

Ahmed (not his real name), a father of five, had no option but to flee his village in the southwestern bay region, which is suffering from severe drought.


When he saw his donkey die from lack of water, Ahmed knew he and his family had to leave or die.

He was keen to find a place where his wife and children would be safe from drought and armed conflict that have left about 5.4 million Somalis - nearly half the population - in need of humanitarian aid and protection.

Ahmed thought of going to Mogadishu where most humanitarian organisations are based, but feared running into Al-Shabaab and his 17-year-old son being conscripted by the terrorists.

He travelled westwards to Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. After a long trek, Ahmed now finds himself in limbo in Dadaab.

The Kenya government’s refusal to register him as a refugee is denying him access to basics such as food and shelter for his family.

And being returned to Somalia would put them at risk of death, injury or forced conscription by Al-Shabaab.

And Ahmed is not alone. According to the UNHCR, at the end of last November, there were about 5,400 Somalis without registration papers in Dadaab, some of whom had been repatriated to Somalia but returned. NGOs say the number could be higher.


An NGO, which monitors border crossings, has reported that more than 24,000 Somalis crossed into Kenya last year alone, most of them citing insecurity and drought.

Refugees who have not been registered lack access to the goods and services offered by charities, including food, shelter and medical care.

They are left with no option but to beg from their registered counterparts, who have very little themselves, especially since the UN World Food Programme cut rations last October.


Lack of identity documents means refugees live in constant fear of being arrested and deported.

In January, an NGO offering legal aid to refugees reported that 31 Somalis, including children, were arrested in Garissa and charged with being in Kenya illegally.

The offence carries a penalty of three months in jail, or a fine of between $100 and $1,000, which most refugees don’t have.

Children who have travelled alone and those who have been separated from their families while making the arduous journey into Kenya from Somalia, are also at heightened risk of exploitation, child labour and early marriage.

It is becoming apparent that the Refugee Affairs Secretariat, which is meant to register refugees, is only concerned with reducing their numbers in Dadaab.


It is not registering new arrivals and has cut back its operations in contravention of last year’s court order.

The authorities are violating laws, including the Kenya Refugee Act of 2006, and reneging on the commitment at an Igad summit in March last year to continue providing asylum to Somalis.

Kenya also has obligations under international law to protect refugees.

It is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, and its 1967 Optional Protocol, as well as the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa.

The government must fulfil its obligations to refugees and respect court rulings upholding their rights. No one chooses to be a refugee.

We all want to live in peace and dignity in our own countries, and to be treated with kindness and respect when we can’t.


Mr Nyamori is the regional refugee coordinator in Amnesty International’s East Africa Regional Office. [email protected]