New Procedure at UNHCR Headcount
A new Kakuma verification exercise began in mid-November and still continues.
2010-11 Winter Quarterly Issue
The atmosphere in Kakuma was tense as a new counting process commenced in mid-November, 2010. While UNHCR-run verification exercises are a familiar process for many long-term refugees, this headcount is the first to include the collaboration of the Kenyan Government. Many refugees were worried over Kenyan government’s involvement in this process in the first few days of the exercise.
The primary purpose of verification exercises at Kakuma Camp is to count the number of refugees and asylum seekers present in the camp, and to collect various other forms of demographic information. Accurate population statistics are needed for purposes of program planning, administration of services, humanitarian fundraising, accountability, and government involvement.
UNHCR verification notices posted around the camp contained schedules of names and registration numbers of beneficiaries [refugees]. When called to the UNHCR office on their appointed day, refugees must travel to the UNHCR Compound located beyond the periphery of the camp and wait for their name to be called in order to enter the compound and verify their identity. As stated on UNHCR verification notices posted around the camp: “All person registered with Nationality: Ethiopian family size one (1), Ugandan and Zimbabwean Nationals in Kakuma One (1), approach the verification site at 06:30 hours on each specified date.”
Refugees have voiced rising complaints over the long journey across the camp required to attend the verification process at the UNHCR Compound. Refugees and the asylum seekers were asked to leave their homes early in the morning in order to report at the verification site without transportation from the UNHCR or the government’s Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) office. Some refugees are forced to leave their homes at around 4:00am to trek across the camp to reach the verification site in time.
In interviews carried out by KANERE, some community leaders reacted to what they termed a ‘lack of consideration on the distance’ by UNHCR. In initial meetings between the UNHCR and refugee community leaders, it was agreed that vulnerable members of the communities, such as the elderly, diseased, or disabled, were to be either assisted by the UNHCR with transport to the site or to be screened at their respective homes. Neither of these promised actions have been taken. “We have many disabled and elderly people in this community, but they were not even counted yet. Some of them do not even know their own registration numbers as scheduled by the UNHCR on the notice boards,” said a refugee leader in Zone Five.
Many refugees live as far as seven kilometers from the UNHCR compound on either end of the camp. They risk trekking in the odd hours of early morning and late evening from the counting center due to overcrowding. Many are extremely worried to be traveling at such vulnerable times, especially following recent attacks in the camp. The Sudanese overall refugee leader commented that the head count could block the referendum voting period for the southerners. “I would like the UNHCR to push the head count to reschedule South Sudanese refugees during the referendum voting period, as this would be a great exercise for the southerners,” he said.
Refugees and asylum seekers scheduled for the head count were asked to report to the UNHCR Compound by 6:30am on their appointed day, and to remain waiting until they could be served by UNHCR officials. Refugees were also informed to carry their food and water for the day. As they continued to wait for long hours, refugee mothers with young babies requested the UNHCR to provide them with cold water and snacks at the main gate to the compound.
Several refugees at the screening site shared their views and frustrations. Some said that the exercise demanded too much of their time, and complained about the poor service and long waits in disorganized queues. “I have been counted more than five times at Kakuma, and yet they still keep repeating this cycle knowing that I was not resettled or even integrated,” said one Ethiopian refugee.
A Department of Refugee Affairs staff member also spoke with KANERE by phone about the verification exercise. “Everything is managed as planned. We do counting according to camp zones., and we are still in Kakuma One.”
According to a UNHCR official, this exercise can be seen as unique because it was started in collaboration with the Kenyan Government Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA), which is in charge of refugee-related issues in Kenya. Through the DRA, the government will carry out census counts in order to assign serial numbers for identification papers to be issued to refugees and asylum seekers. “We are expecting to complete the exercise by the beginning of February. The entire camp population of registered refugees should go through this exercise,” said a UNHCR official anonymously.