Kakuma News Reflector – A Refugee Free Press

UNHCR Field Posts Aim to Protect Refugees

Posted in Human Rights by KANERE on February 28, 2009

Volume 1, Issue 3 / February 2009

Do UNHCR field posts in the refugee camp actually fulfill their role in human rights protection? Refugees are not so sure


Refugees wait to see UNHCR staff at Field Post One

Refugees wait to see UNHCR staff at Field Post One

Field posts serve as a point of direct contact between refugees and UNHCR staff in airing complaints and rights claims. They serve to monitor the treatment of refugees and ensure that their rights are upheld. But many refugees claim that the system is failing in its critical protection function.


A UNHCR “outpost” in the camp

UNHCR staff regularly visit field posts to collect refugee claims, provide feedback, and submit cases to concerned offices. Because refugee access to the UNHCR compound is highly restricted, field posts are the only forum for refugees to bring their protection concerns directly to UNHCR officials.

According to a UNHCR-Kakuma Briefing on Protection Activities, the purpose of field post visits is to monitor the treatment of refugees and ensure that their rights are upheld. “Regular presence of Protection staff at the field posts…facilitates the monitoring of individual cases…With the help of the actors involved, the office continually identifies persons deemed to be vulnerable, with a view to exploring alternative security arrangements” (p. 1).

UNHCR Field Unit administers and oversees activities carried out at field posts. Representatives from UNHCR Protection Unit (PU) and Community Services Unit (CSU) visit Field Post One and Field Post Three every Monday and Wednesday. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) is also represented at field posts through the Peace Building and Conflict Resolution, Gender, and Child Protection Units.

UNHCR Repatriation and Resettlement Units do not visit field posts, but according to a UNHCR official who wished to remain anonymous, cases concerning these offices are sometimes collected by Field Unit officers.

Caseworkers from different communities serve as a link between LWF Community Services Unit on the one hand and UNHCR Offices on the other. The caseworkers’ role in this regard consists in assessing cases of different categories in the community. The cases are then forwarded to the concerned office through a written report.

There are currently two field posts active in Kakuma Camp, but another may be opened to serve Somali refugees relocated to Kakuma from Dadaab.


“A frightening situation”

An Ethiopian couple who sought the assistance of UNHCR in a complex case of eligibility, family unity, and attempted suicide represent one example in the long story of cases seen at field post.

The couple arrived in Kakuma Camp in 2003, when they were registered and given a ration card. They stayed four years in the camp without being called for an eligibility interview to determine their status as refugees. During this period they gave birth to two children.

In 2007, the couple was interviewed for eligibility but their claim was rejected. After an appeal, they were again rejected and their ration card was subsequently deactivated according to UNHCR policy.

Curiously, their two children born in Kakuma Camp were given their own ration card despite being minors under the age of ten.

According to UNHCR policy, a rejected client must leave the camp within 30 days, at which time their ration card is deactivated and they will not be entitled to access any services. This situation posed a serious dilemma for the couple, who experienced intense frustration until the husband decided to divorce his wife.

For the sake of survival, the distraught mother decided to marry another man in order to bring up her two children. At the time of writing, she was pregnant and again divorced.

Perceiving her life as unbearable and despairing at her legal limbo in the camp, the mother attempted to commit suicide on several occasions. Her last suicide attempt occurred on 5 February 2009.

Caseworkers concerned with the case report that no office seems to be concerned with, or has taken action on, her risky situation. When presented at field post, the responses of UNHCR officials have been dismissive. “This is a frightening situation, if not a disaster,” the caseworker commented.


 A spectrum of cases and clients

Most claims seen at Field Post fall into one of four broad categories: 1) insecurity claims; 2) gender-based violence (SGBV) or social problems in the community; 3) child-rights claims such as early marriage, defilement, or child abduction; or 4) issues related to UNHCR bureaucratic policy, including ration card status, registration, official decisions, resettlement, shelter needs, and more.

Common protection claims include rape, assault, girls’ elopement, child abduction, forced marriage, wife inheritance, shelter dispute, water dispute, and SGBV cases (sexual- and gender-based violence). Some of these protection cases are solved at the community level by caseworkers and community leaders through arbitration and mediation. Others are referred to UNHCR PU for follow-up-but only those cases which are found to be “genuine” and require intervention from competent UNHCR officials.

The bulk of cases seen at field posts concern bureaucratic matters of UNHCR processing and feedback. Such cases include requests for ration card reunification (e.g., a family member who was lost and found); ration card separation (e.g., a case of divorce); ration card activation (e.g., when UNHCR has deactivated a ration card); or lost and missing ration cards.  

Long delays in feedback from UNHCR Offices force many refugees to seek information on their registration and eligibility cases at field post. For example, many refugees completed eligibility interviews over a year ago and continue to await an eligibility decision from UNHCR Protection Unit. In such cases, individuals are nearly always instructed to “keep waiting” for UNHCR feedback. 

Caseworkers at field post deal with two main categories of clients. The first category includes people who continually raise insecurity claims or new issues. They are not consistent in their statements, but keep changing their story and are unwilling to disclose all their problems to caseworkers. These are clients who have hidden agendas or unclear objectives. They are referred to as “permanent clients.”

The second category includes the majority of refugees having common problems of domestic violence, water disputes, shelter disputes, and a host of other issues due to poverty and long stays in the camp. They are referred to as “genuine cases.”

An additional group that consults the UNHCR at field post are asylum seekers, new arrivals, and repatriated Sudanese who came back for new registration.


Endless referrals and too little feedback

Refugees report that field post visits are largely ineffective due to an endless system of referrals, lack of accurate case information, and an absence of feedback.

According to one caseworker with LWF Peace Building Unit, there is lack of communication and proper information flow between LWF Community Services and UNHCR. Most cases submitted to LWF Community Services by social workers remain pending.

Some cases even “disappear” between LWF and UNHCR offices. This happens, for instance, when a case is submitted to LWF Community Services by the caseworker, and LWF informs the caseworker that the case has been submitted to UNHCR. But when the client inquires from UNHCR, they are told that the case never reached UNHCR offices.

This scenario can persist up to four years while the refugee remains in limbo. During this time, the client is repeatedly told by LWF and UNHCR to follow up the case at field post.

Many refugees have stayed in Kakuma Camp for more than a decade, some up to 18 years. This prolonged situation has caused many refugees to develop frustration, depression, hopelessness, and even suicide. Such reactions are exacerbated by late responses-or non response-to refugee cases by UNHCR offices.


Left in limbo, and desperate

Case processing problems may cause disenfranchised clients to become bitter towards the caseworker who is suspected of blocking the case. Such instances of desperation often escalate, as when two caseworkers were assaulted by clients of their respective communities. Many caseworkers experience intimidation and harassment for similar reasons.

One caseworker with LWF Peace Building Unit began receiving death threats in January 2009 from local Kenyans who were unhappy with his handling of a case in which their son had died of an alcohol overdose. He reports that insecurity is a serious problem for caseworkers: “It’s a very big challenge. As a human being, I really fear when people threaten to kill me and it’s stopping me from doing my job well-I can’t concentrate and my movements are restricted.”

The caseworker reports that no action was taken by UNHCR Protection Unit (PU) to protect him against the death threats of his clients. “When caseworkers raise a problem of insecurity they must take action immediately to ensure the caseworker is protected. They are not doing that! They neglect and we are suffering.”

When asked why UNHCR does not respond quickly to urgent insecurity claims such as his, the caseworker responds, “I don’t know why they neglect-when we report to UNHCR PU they don’t take any action.”

But with long delays in case processing and a frustrating system of referrals, it is understandable that clients become desperate.

One case example is a Congolese family who repeatedly received death threats from unknown local Kenyans. According to Faraja,* the head of the family, the case was referred to LWF Peace Building Unit in October 2006 for investigation. It was to be transferred to UNHCR Protection Unit in November 2006.

Several interviews were conducted at field post and Faraja was assured that the case had been transferred to UNHCR PU in February 2007. LWF Peace Building told the family to wait for their name to appear on the notice board. As there was no response from UNHCR, the LWF Peace Building advised the family to go to field post for follow-up.

The family spent the entire year of 2007 seeking follow-up at field post. Officers from UNHCR repeatedly informed the family to wait, that they would be called for an appointment very soon.

In early 2008, Faraja decided to see the Protection Officer. When consulted, the Protection Officer’s response was that the case had not yet been referred to UNHCR by LWF Peace Building Unit.

For the next nine months during 2008, the family repeatedly brought their case to field post for follow-up. LWF Peace Building insisted that the case had already been referred to UNHCR, while UNHCR claimed that they had never received the case.

Faraja reports that it was difficult to meet the same UNHCR PU representative twice concerning the case. During the first two years of visiting field post, the family head encountered new UNHCR representatives each time. Today it may be a lady, next month a Kenyan man, and the following month a young white woman.

Now the family is in total confusion. Is their case in the hands of LWF or UNHCR, or has it disappeared altogether? Apparently, none of the concerned officials know. 2009 marks the third year of the family’s dilemma, and Faraja reports that he does not know who will assist his family in this hopeless situation.


UNHCR faces challenges at field post

According to a UNHCR Field Unit official who wished to remain anonymous, UNHCR faces many challenges to effective services at field post.

The officer cites feedback delays to clients and long delays in the registration process. According to this official, ongoing RSD eligibility is currently processing those who arrived in Kakuma Camp between 2003 and 2006. The official also cites the more general challenge of inadequacy of basic services such as water, food, shelter, health care, and education.

A UNHCR Protection Unit official who requested anonymity says that most refugees are disappointed by services rendered to them at field post. They lack trust in Kenyan humanitarian aid workers and prefer to be heard by international staff. As opposed to Kenyan staffs, international aid workers are sometimes perceived by refugees to be more reliable or neutral-especially in cases concerning community problems.

The UNHCR official, who is a white international staff, confides that she usually receives more clients at field post than other Kenyan or local staffs. She believes this may be due to the fact that “everybody wants to see an mzungu,” referring to the Kiswahili term for “white person.”

The concerned officers at LWF declined to comment on this matter. According to the LWF Program Coordinator, William Tembu, “We are waiting for a proposed inter-agency committee to chart the way forward in respect to the press.”


*Not their real names


Sources Cited

UNHCR Sub-Office Kakuma (SOK) (year unknown) ‘Briefing on Protection Activities in Kakuma Refugee Camp’, compiled by M. Ouma, Protection Assistant.

21 Responses

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  1. IDDI NURU said, on April 1, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    I totally agree with the UNHCR of their challenges, but still it needs too for the Protection Unit to take a faster response in the case of a client. They as protection officer have use to go to the field post to take action rather than again sending the client back to a caseworker, who will have to take the case to LWF where the case will end up with no action/intervention.
    In the camp of Kakuma most criminals, sucide, suffering of refugees comes in a way that one in the mentioned group of problems leads people to limbo.
    Otherwise I too still thank the UN of Kakuma.
    And also most Embassies, I mean the resettling countries like USA, CANADA, and others UN have to offer help to those in high demand of third country (durable solution). There many in demand of that.

  2. masonga chifundera said, on April 17, 2009 at 10:10 am

    I would just to give my point of view that lack of feed back to the refugee claims so you will find more refugee have the mantal problems in this camp like me i feel like Iwiil be the one

  3. Do you need history of one Ethiopian refugee who arrive kkm in 1992 and in 2006 got restlment UK he enterviewd,medical,orentetion after that Reject do you need full history?

  4. Dear Jornalist, If you need to meet this Ethiopian poor family I will send you.write for me eskendereliyas@gmail.com

  5. fatuma said, on October 1, 2009 at 11:09 am

    i here by kindly submit my application to your distinguished office i come kkm 1992 and i dont have feed for my resetlement thanks

  6. Abdi Elmi Mohammud said, on October 27, 2009 at 11:08 pm

    Mohammud Abdi Elmi
    2520 Putter Ave

    Dear Sir/Madam


    Initially,I would like to offer my gratitude to the american government for the effective
    and sustainable assistance given to the refugee suffreing in Kenya.
    I am married to somali refugee woman she living to the Kenya refugee camp
    Kakuma 1 group 78 B from UNHCR My wife,s name Amino Noor Mursal and possessed
    this ration card number :173399 or this new one 021976 and she registered whith her children
    I left My wife and children on 10/11/2008
    she have given birth to shem for to children whose name are:
    Somayo Abdi Elmi
    Mohammed Abdi Elmi


    My mother was not pleased whith to be my wife and being processed whith shem in the profile she did not
    have any ration card when the UNHCR posted for the profile interview and I show them Certifcate of marreid
    My wife to follow me UNHCR the refused and swore could cancel process and the toll me she don have ration card
    and my mother when UNHCR asked like that she get mad and she toll me I don want to see this girl after that I was meeting
    My wife and I expalin everything and she understand what I mean

    How ever my wife and children is currently living in the Kenya Kakuma refugee camp alone and the still in Kakuma refugee camp
    and she contact me also she is concerned about how far we are separated by the destiny. there is common need for my wife and
    sha contact number is this:-254-716-726-087 and my number:-614-470-9743
    In the end I am kindly requesting you to assist my children and I how we could be
    reunited whith my wife and their father.
    I wish that you would feel pity on such concer.

    Thank you

    Yours truly, Abdi mohammud Elmi

  7. Emerimana Daniel Christian said, on October 20, 2010 at 2:11 am

    Hello Dear Sir/Madam,i am Daniel Christian,Burundian by Nationality,I fled the current Government of Burundi and my Father whom both were targeting to kill me,my father who denied me was not happy to hear about the completion of my secondary studies then he reported to the Government that i am a rebelion member of MSD(movement for solidarity and democracy).In may 2009 i was arreste,tortured and threatened by IMBONERAKURE(Youth militia of the ruling party CNDD-FDD)with the support of my father who recommanded them to kill me by God’s mercy there came a crowd of people then i openly told them that i am accused innoncently then they released me but with a starn warning that i will be kiled therefore i decided to flee my country now i thank God that i am alive,i am here in Kakuma refugee camp where i have no dependent and no source of income,my future is uncertain,life is bleaking without meaningful education,i am planning to continue my studies but no possibility to afford it,if is there any one to help me please help me i am crying for a help.I also claim that my protection is removed because i did interviews April to May this year am still waiting for result and all whom we were together were all provided,therefore i fear endanger my lives if my protected refugee status is removed i may be considered as illegal immigrant or be returned home by force where i fear for my lives.Thank you so much i hope to be helped and i will grateful with your help,if you feel to help me contact the editors for Kanere, by Daniel Christian.

  8. Daniel said, on December 15, 2011 at 6:19 am

    long time live in bad conditions of sufferings in kakuma with out any processe on my case so i am asking what wil be the future life or waiting to die in the camp?

  9. Daniel said, on December 15, 2011 at 6:26 am

    UNHCR was not looking the person that seek protection in kakuma, they help other people who are new arrivals and this thing is confusing me. I tell them my protection case but they can not support me and also others who are like me. I don’t fight.

  10. TESFU said, on November 23, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Dear kaner is any problem to merry opposite nationality? I was merry Ethiopian girl but I don’t know why all those came behind us they get third country but we’re not yet I asked field post they say be patient so until when? Thank you

    Yours TESFU

  11. LOVE LEHULUM said, on November 24, 2012 at 10:20 am

    Hi KANERE first of all thank you. My name is Love Ethiopian girl living Kakuma I was married eritrean Guy but all Ethiopians ignoring me the same to my husband and all those who came Kakuma after us they get third country so I suppose to devours with him because may be UNHCR doesn’t want it and to get peace with all Ethiopians so what can I do? And I love him. Please advice me thank you

    Yours LOVE

  12. Mohamed Dahir Abdi said, on December 1, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    I am a somali refugee man who fled somalia in the year 1992. I lived in Kenya as a refugee from last two decade. The UN refugee agency transfered my ration card to Kakuma early months of this year. After arriving in Kakuma I have got alot of different and agony situation and up to now nothing has been done for me to assist in my problesm. I would want to ask the Ressettlement Unit to have a glance on my profile file?

  13. Abdirahman said, on February 4, 2013 at 1:10 pm

    can you assist me with the email address of UNHCR in kakuma?

  14. Tesfaye yishak tewolde said, on August 22, 2013 at 8:25 am

    i am an Ethiopian refugee, I border cross and registered in 2003 at kakuma Camp. My quesition to UNCHR is has never got response, I was accepted and then rejected at the same time in 2004. I am still in this camp, we are not able to meet any lawyer to solve my problems. Please, can you help me to get any solution?

  15. amab said, on October 3, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    corruption outside the gate

  16. Epeherem said, on December 12, 2013 at 5:42 am

    I was a writing and acting in Addis Ababa,Ethiopia.now a days i live in Kakuma refugee camp.if you can help me to get sponsorship.

  17. Sharifo abdulahi warsame said, on May 25, 2014 at 1:31 am

    Hello, I am a mother of two children, we are suffering in Homophobia in kakuma refugee camp. I have returned to the hospital but they don’t give me any medicine and any advice about this suffering. I tried to visit the field post many times and it was not possible to get any booking because my son is two months old. The field post are always overcrowded and i can not keep on for a long waiting with my kid together with other adults. I am requesting kindly to get some help and advice. My tel phone number is 0700582460


  18. Hassan S Hamad said, on April 19, 2016 at 10:31 am

    I am an asylum seeker. I did my eligibility interviews with UN in 2012 and still waiting decision for years. When i contacted their lawyers, they told me to wait and follow any notice the board for communication. I have waited for almost 6 years and no feedback? Please i would like to know about my status and also to know if am qualified to be recognized by UNHCR or GOK or if i am in the category of those to be sent back for repatriation?

  19. ally said, on September 24, 2016 at 10:45 pm

    Refugees deserve better life

  20. jaale12 said, on November 27, 2016 at 9:43 am

    Hi dear, my name is Abdi Ahmed. I live with my children in kakuma: Aisha Abdi Ahmed and Abdirahman Abdi Ahmed together with my wife. We’ve been seeking family re-unification for many year from UNHCR. How can we really get help? I went to UN field post 1 but we were not given a chance even to enter the building to meet their lawyers. The guard at entrance of the door took my papers into the room and someone told us to go the the UNHCR main office to meet with the protection officer but we went to the compound so many times. We didn’t get any help! We hope UNHCR people will see this note and respond to my family soon?

    Thank you.

  21. NIWAMUNGU Laurence said, on October 14, 2017 at 6:05 am

    Actually we appreciate UNHCR activities. Refugees we are having community issues like insecurity whereby to find rescue is too difficult. We report the matters to Kenya polices but reports are not reaching the UN protection office.. So, we beg unhcr staff to be always on field and collect problems from the communities instead of waiting to receive complains inside the good office that you build with our money. I hope to get these protection officers to respond?

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