A New Dawn
It is a new dawn
for approximately 500,000 the refugees
living in Kenya. After 2 years of rigorous advocacy and lobbying on the
17th November 2021, the President signed into law The Refugees Bill
(National Assembly Bill No. 62 of 2019).
The Refugee Bill was the long awaited ‘promised land’ for the refugees and asylum seekers who reside in Kenya both in the designated camps (i.e. Kakuma, Dadaab & Kalobeyei settlement) and the urban areas. With the looming shadow of camp closure, the refugees has been on edge and desperate for the just a little light in the murky waters that has been their life for the last few months.
Upon receiving the news on the special sitting that was held on September 1st 2021, that had the President issue recommendations and proposals, many were disheartened believing that it is yet another year and a Refugee Bill that may never be signed into law.
However, we are grateful to the Government of Kenya that they have recognized the need to have a new legislative framework to deal with refugee management and protection. We are cognizant of some of the significant aspects that the new Refugee Act has highlighted which include but not limited to the definition of asylum seekers and the designated area, the express mention of local integration as well as work permits and clauses on economic inclusion.
Although there are commendable strides in the realization of social and economic rights of the refugee and asylum seeker community in the Act, we cannot deny that there have been a lot of concerns raised on some of the proposals issued by the President before the assent of the Bill into Law and effect that would have on the refugee and asylum seekers community.
One of these is that the envisioned Act is to facilitate the refugees from partner States of the East African Community to benefit from an alternative immigration status which may allow them to obtain work permits. This is in a bid to ensure the full implementation of the 2010 East African Community Common Market Protocol and substantially reduce the refugee population in Kenya while simultaneously operating as a durable the protracted refugee situation. On face value this may seem as a positive and durable solution to the protracted state of refuges in the country. However on the flip side, without a proper definition of what alternative immigration status means one may also interpret the clause to mean that Kenya does not recognize the refugees status of members from the East Africa Community therefore exposing them to refoulment.
The definition of transit centers to include detention centers, police stations and prisons, promotes the criminalization of asylum seeking which is in contravention with the human rights principles of dignity, equality and non-discrimination which is provided in Article 27(4) and 28 of the Constitution 2010.
Although the concerns are glaring, the appreciation of having an updated framework is commendable after close to a decade of lobbying for reforms in the space. We look forward to the publication and dissemination of the Law to the public as we continue with advocating for the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya.
It is truly a new dawn for our community.
By Wangui Ndwiga
Legal Consultant-RELON Kenya.