By Kathleen Agena – email@example.com
This tragic scenario can be avoided if a more realistic approach to the refugee crisis is adopted. (more…)
More than 45 refugees boarding the Dayah bus express were arrested and arraigned at Eldoret Main Court and charged with the offence of being illegal immigrants. (more…)
Hundreds of Kakuma camp residents staged a protest following frequent murders by unidentified gunmen. (more…)
The International Protection Regime Fails to Protect Rwandan Refugees
Rwanda has a long history of ethnically based discrimination politics with a clear hand of support of international community. In 1959, the people’s revolution received assistance from the Belgian colonial power when the country’s overall leadership shifted from the King – who could only come from Tutsi families – to the first president, a Hutu. At that point, the first episode of an influx of Tutsi refugees and a handful of Hutus began in neighboring countries. Tutsis experienced considerable power loss while the Hutus enjoyed what seemed like a right-based leadership. The Tutsis gathered all possible sources of support to regain power. Three decades later this group of refugees assisted by the United Nations Mission in Rwanda (UNMIR) and nations surrounding Rwanda managed to reinstate Tutsis to power. This time it was not as kings due to the Arusha agreement of Power Sharing, which did not support monarchy. Rwanda had also been a democratic republic since the early 1960s.
Sadly, it became a vicious cycle of refugee crisis. Unlike the former regime, the current Kigali government that came into power in 1994, when hundreds of thousands of innocent citizens were murdered, tortured, and raped facing all kinds of atrocities committed by both parties. This led thousands of Rwandan Hutus and a few Tutsis to flee to seek refuge in neighboring countries and elsewhere. Many refugees still flee Rwanda due to the regime intolerance of political differences. Today, these refugees come from different ethnic backgrounds and provinces of the country.
The Cessation Clause, a Failure to Protect Rwandan Refugees
The clause in the1951 Convention indicates certain clearly defined circumstances in which the refugee status can be cancelled or revoked. Article 1C, sub-paragraph 1 to 4 states that one of these circumstances is the time when a refugee becomes re-established in his or her country of origin. Rwandan refugees in the 1996 case did not meet this criteria; instead, they were surrounded by Tanzanian, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Burundian army heavy tanks and helicopters flying over their camps and those who tried to flee deep in the forest were killed, returned, raped and seriously abused by the deployed armies tasked to repatriate them.
Under article 1C (5) and (6), the Convention is very clear that there have to be fundamental changes and the circumstances in connection to those on the basis of which the refugees had been initially recognized have ceased to exist. In the Rwandan refugee case, the circumstances have not ceased. Indeed, they have gradually deterioratd. Today there those who flee Rwanda due to increasing instability, ethnic strife, arbitrary judicial procedures, indiscriminate retaliation, political violence, intolerance of dissent, impunity and the lack of accountability that has ensued since the genocide. The Rwandan government continues to oppress its own people. There are documented cases of killings, torture, disappearings, and arbitrary arrests. There is no plurality of political parties and a lack of freedom of expression without which there can be no open democratic society.
This government has reached beyond its borders, with many Rwandan refugees in neighboring countries reporting attempted murders and or the unfortunate murders of family members and friends perpetrated by the Rwandan government. Seth Sendashonga was assassinated in May 1998. Two children were butchered inside a Refugee accommodation center in April 2002 upon being delayed for resettlement to Australia. Rizinde was killed in Nairobi. More than three Rwandan refugees were shot in 2000 after being forcibly packed into trucks and driven to Rwanda by Rwandan forces working jointly with Ugandan comrades. General Kayumba Nyamwasa escaped deadly gunshots last year in South Africa. The Inyenyerinews editor, Charles Ingabire, was shot in Kampala, Uganda in October 2011.
Need for Resettlement
The Rwandan government has mounted pressure on UNHCR to apply this cessation clause in an attempt to end the refugee issues that have become a long-term political liability. In 2009, when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, visited Rwanda, the government and UNHCR agreed to invoke the cessation clause in the case of Rwandan refugees by December 2011.
The Fahamu Network for social justice, a human rights organization dealing with refugees in East Africa appealed the Rwandan request citing various reasons why they feel it is premature to revoke the status of refugees. The issue of unwarranted cessation claus was raised in an October 2011 annual meeting of the UNHCR Executive Committee and of representatives of its member states. The implementation was, however, adjourned to June 2012 and then eventually June 2013. Although the decision concerns refugees who fled since 1959 to December 1998, Rwanda still continues to produce refugees. It is believed that this decision would affect about 100,000 Rwandan refugees in exile who mainly reside in Africa.
Many refugees have desperately expressed their continued need for protection. Local integration is one of the best solutions for those who are not willing to go back home for fear of the grave persecution they faced and might still face. Many survived the Rwandan army killings in the DRC forests between 1996 and 2000. They witnessed these killings and many of them bear scars from them. These refugees need to be protected internationally as they are not willing to go back to Rwanda for fear of persecution. The premature application of the cessation clause can have extremely serious consequences for refugees who need to remain in the country of asylum and who may be forced to leave illegally and henceforth may be threatened with refoulement. Rwanda needs positive change to enable refugees to enjoy the protection of their government and enough time to consolidate and demonstrate genuine national reconciliation.
What can refugees do?
Rwandan refugees have the obligation to find ways of contacting their host countries and to express their fears against being forcibly repatriated like in 1996. It is possible with the pressure of the current government to face an unconventional procedural application of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees whereby they have the right to information and, ideally, the right to gainful employment. The Rwandan refugees should liaison with existing regional and international human rights organizations as well as with news media outlets.
One common understanding would be that refugees still be afforded protection until acceptable changes have been effected in Rwanda so that refugees will voluntarily repatriate. “No one assisted me to flee, likewise when Rwanda is safe for me; I may not need UNHCR assistant to go back,” Said a Rwandan refugee in Kakuma.
A KANERE senior writer attended an international conference hosted by the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Rory Peck Trust in Nairobi last December.
The representatives of media organizations meet during this occasion to streamline new strategies for East African journalists in exile. The international community came together to try to help exiled journalists by looking into means of developing networking and building mechanisms which could help exiled journalists in the region.
Participants included the Committee to Protect Journalists in association with the Rory Peck Trust, media legal defense representatives, the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma, regional East African and international human rights and free press advocates, defenders organizations, and the Refugee Free Press. The Conference was held at the Fairview Hotel from 11th – 14th Dec. 2011. The Fairview Hotel is considered to be among the best hotels in Nairobi regarding security.
There were four full days of discussions regarding assistance for East African journalists in exile. A KANERE official took part in the one-hour panel: “Sustainable Initiatives beyond Assistance.” Panelists discussed initiatives to empower exiled journalist. This panel engendered lively debate. The community of East African exiled journalist has identified different issues affecting the daily lives of journalists in exile, including: unproductive job opportunities while in exile; legal protection insecurity; and limited opportunities for sustainable livelihood. As refugees, exiled journalists in UNHCR camps are among the most affected. One Ethiopian exiled journalist at KANERE shared his experience and suffering. Elias Lemma was forced out of Ethiopia after exposing government secret scandals in the Maebel newspaper where he was Chief Editor in 2002.
Mr. Lemma worked at the Maebel, Andenet and Fikirsewa newspapers, which are based in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital. He lived in a suburb of Nairobi for about five years with more than a dozen other exiled journalists from Ethiopia who have fled due to death threats. In 2007, he applied for durable solution to the Kenya Branch Office of UNHCR following attacks on Ethiopian journalists under UNHCR protection in Nairobi on September 6, 2006. UNHCR has not made any progress in his case even after he moved to Kakuma after several security problems in Nairobi. “Exile is a different world. We’re merely alive and only better than death. We are not living normal life,” said Lemma who is now 38 and the oldest exiled journalist in KANERE.
The aim of the conference was to find sustainable and cohesive solutions to the problems E. African journalists and freelancers in exile face. Exiled journalists are suffering with any right to livelihood in the region. Exiled journalists in refugee camps are in even more vulnerable situations compared to their colleagues in urban settings. It is not easy to secure job opportunities. In UNHCR refugee camps, it is a humanitarian cliché that “however a refugee is educated, whatever his/her professional background, h/she must be a member of the ‘incentive’ wage-earning class not to be contracted for salaries.”
Many exiled journalists fear insecurity, disappearances and even death while under the protection UNHCR. It is important for global journalists and diaspora media outlets to be involved in advocating and lobbying with local authorities for proper protection for journalists and for their freedom of expression according to ethical codes and principles.
Since its launch, members of the KANERE staff have been physically attacked several times and had equipment destroyed and their homes in the camp damaged. Reporters without Borders wrote to the UNHCR officials in charge of the Kakuma Camp in June 2010 asking them to provide better protection for KANERE members. As the harassment has continued, Reporters without Borders wrote a second letter to UNHCR in the mid of June 2011.
Death threats have driven many journalists into exile. And a large number of journalists have been forced to narrowly escape death from East and Horn of African. For instance, governments like that of Ethiopia have anti-terrorism laws that allow them to censure both national and international journalists like the two Swedish journalist who were recently sentenced to 11 year in prison under the terrorism law in that country.
Free press groups such as the Committee to Protect Journalists and Reporters without Borders often report widespread violations of Ethiopian journalists. To read more about the conference and CPJ’s work, please click on the following URL link: http://www.cpj.org/blog/2011/12/in-nairobi-plans-to-improve-aid-to-exiled-journali.php#more
Kakuma Refugee Camp redrawn under the new constitution that will be adopted from January 2012
The blocking system enhances camp leadership, governance and community participation following the new camp addressing system that was implemented in 2011. Kakuma Refugee Camp has been redrawn in accordance with the new rules that are believed to shape the camp life and intercommunity integration for the better through new measures such as regular elections.
Over 150 candidates filed their applications with the office of the Lutheran World Federation – Peace Building and Community Resolution Unit where they eagerly waited their names to be short listed.
Even though the camp constitution was aimed to institutionalize the rules of encampment policy, democracy, human rights and freedom, the first two drafts were firmly rejected by community leaders. The final draft was approved in Fall 2011. Its approval came after several consultation meetings and intense lobbying by the camp governing authority with community leaders. Many camp residents still maintain that the constitution fails to address the warehousing situation. It has, for instance, not explained why refugees are warehoused in camps for decades with no options for settlement or integration in the host communities even after such a long time.
Community leaders and residents have expressed mixed feelings toward the constitution. The majority of the camp residents are illiterate and would need a longer time to understand the contents of the constitution. “I have only heard the new constitution, and that there will be elections. Don’t I have the right to know and give my consent?” asked a leader of a women’s support group at Kakuma 3.
According to Article 2 of the2011 constitution of the Kakuma Refugee Camp, its objectives are to strengthen the self-management of the refugee community and to generally ensure that the welfare, wellbeing and the rights of refugees at the camp are protected. Incentive staff, including school teachers, who have read the constitution, stated that the new constitutional system will create a better change in the community although they acknowledge that there are some considerable gaps. “It is written on paper but how practical will it be? Let’s see what happens,” said a primary school teacher at Kakuma 2.
Refugee leaders differ on several issues relating to the constitution. Many leaders have complained that there wasn’t enough information released in the community on the creation of new rules. Other leaders described it as a way to enhance a system that aims to constrain and control the camp environment. “In our community there is no problem, we have understood the new constitution. It’s fine though the old leaders are not happy; we are ready and waiting for election time,” said a Somali leader at kakuma1 Zone1 Block8.
Minor conflicts have been reported in a few blocks which lack physical demarcations that separate one block from the other. Due to this, UNHCR has not announced the date of the election. No campaigning has been authorized to take place in the community until short listed candidates are notified to do so. Campaigning is expected to last for a limited number of weeks.
Several community leaders have held secret meeting at evenings to plan for the elections especially that of the camp governor, a very competitive position created for the first time ever in Kakuma camp.
Camp Management Committees
The new Kakuma Refugee Camp constitution has created numerous committees within different areas of the camp settlement. There are three levels of management: There will be 94 block management committees, 8 zonal management committees and 2 Camp management committees. Block residents shall appoint members of the electoral committee for the block management committees. There are 94 registered blocks in the camp and each block will have a block management committee.
The Block Management Committee is comprised of sectoral committees on Shelter and Infrastructure, Health and Nutrition, Food and Firewood, the Environment, Peace and Security, Education and Youth, Gender Support, Children, and Persons living with disabilities.
The Zonal Management Committee is comprised of the zonal chairperson, zonal vice chairperson, zonal security, zonal interpreters and zonal sectoral committees. Each zone shall have a zonal management committee which shall be composed of two block leaders of both genders from each block within a particular zone. The members shall elect a chairperson, vice-chairperson of both gender and a secretary. Any block leader elected as chairperson and vice-chairperson shall cease being a block leader and a by-election shall be held at the block level.
The Camp Management Committee is comprised of the Camp Governor, the Camp vice Governor and the Camp Secretary. There will be an overall camp management committee which will include the camp governor and vice camp governor of each zonal management committee and a representative of persons living with disabilities.
The election process will be conducted without discrimination based on nationality, ethnicity, religion or sex. It will be based on the capacity and willingness of the candidates. All elections shall be carried out by secret ballot as indicated in the constitution. According to Article 7 of the 2011 Constitution, after the campaigning period, the process of elections will be witnessed by a taskforce including representatives from the Kenyan Department for Refugee Affairs, the Lutheran World Federation and UNHCR as well as any other appointed agency.
In what will be the old Kakuma refugee camp, the leaders will be elected based on blocks, zones, and areas. “There have been delays in the entire process, but new leadership camp elections are expected by March 2012,” Said an an electoral committee member.
Electoral Committees have been established in each block and shall act as independent bodies in charge of organizing elections for block leaders and of overseeing the appointments of sectoral committees members. Among its core functions; the electoral committee of the block management committee shall oversee campaigns, provide ballot boxes and assist in counting votes. Tallying and the announcement of results will be done at the polling stations. The committee will declare the successful candidates with the election taskforce.
The constitution gives more power to the camp governor by establishing wide committees. Refugees worry that this power might be used by authorities to control and limit the decision-making that affect the well-being of camp residents in daily life.
The Term of Office
Article 8 clarifies that elected officials shall serve two years and can be re-elected for another term. Upon the expiry of two terms they are barred from re-election.
Article 3 states that any person registered with the government of Kenya and UNHCR and who resides at the Kakuma Refugee Camp is bound by the Constitution.
To read more about the camp constitution, we ask KANERE readers to check on the views and opinions of refugee leaders on the Community Talking Point.
KANERE talks to community leaders about their diverse perspectives on the New Camp Constitution and Election.
“The community has welcomed the idea of a new Camp Constitution. Tribalism and religious interest do not constitute a good match with the current constitutional system. We need change in leadership from the community to the camp levels. It is important that people be liberated from the chain of ethnicity. “
– Ugandan Community Leader
“I want to welcome the new constitution. This is a new kind of structure that we never had before in this camp. Every block will have ten block representatives who will work in cooperation. I also hope that this will be the time that youth will have a chance to participate in leadership and governance to reform our society. “
– F. Said, Overall Somali Youth Leader at Kakuma Camp.
“I strongly oppose the new rules of the camp. It’s a dictatorial regime that imposed on the minority the will of the majority. In my view, the camp should be governed by the laws of the country not new rules of its kind. That is why the Constitution will have a negative impact. Knowledge and knowing one’s rights is what can make us intelligent.”
– Anonymous UNHCR Refugee Interpreter
“A power shift will not be realistic, I think. This may not be true but elected leaders can be controlled like puppets. A true governor should have decision-making power over anything which affects the community negatively or positively.”
– A. Thomas, Kakuma 2 Primary School Teacher
“There is a bureaucratic interest in this structure. This is not a well-defined constitution. Politics will take over within the communities. In this context, I would also wish to know what the law states in the Bill of Rights regarding refugee protection, which is a civil and political right in any democratic governance.”
– Ethiopian KANERE Writer
“Kakuma leadership should be changed. The camp has existed for over 21 years and it comprises many nationalities from all over Africa. We need to have a centralized leadership.”
– Multinational Community Leader, Kakuma 3
“I oppose this Constitution. It will not be easy to manage refugees of different nationalities, languages, diverse cultures and religious affiliations under one administration. This will increase conflict over scarce resources like water. In my opinion it’s more important for UNHCR to give proper attention to refugee voices in the camp.”
– Ethiopian Community Leader, Kakuma1
“The new idea is not bad, but my concern is about the implementation of the Constitution. This is going to create a unit where opportunities can be shared equally. I feel that the existence of many community leaders has expanded corruption and discrimination.”
– Ethiopian, Ogaden Community Leader.
“I support the new camp Constitution. I have read it. I was a member of the drafting committee that established the Constitution in 2011. This system can provide people with rights over and access to service deliveries. There was too much confusion in the past. When the time comes we want to elect a leader who is just, equal, educated and capable to lead the camp as one!”
– Somali Community Leader and a Contester at Kakuma1 Zone1 Block8
“I am for both new leadership and the new Constitution. It’s based on blocks which can help to identify the most vulnerable members in each community. The election will be highly competitive among contesters who are already aware of possible compensation for their service. In the past, community leaders have not been compensated for all the work they do as their position has been on a voluntary basis. That gave fodder to abuse and violations.”
– B. Wechtour, Secretary to Ethiopian Nuer Community.
“I am opposing this Constitution as it is favoring a particular national majority. I think refugees should stay without an overall leader. I want to suggest that the local administration blocks should remain as governing blocks in refugee communities because they will not have the power to decide anything.”
– C. Atem, Kakuma1 Hongkong Area
“I am for the camp Constitution as it can promote togetherness, peaceful co-existence and human rights. These new rules can lead refugees at Kakuma to govern themselves and their community as one large society guided by refugee fraternity. I only hope that the election will be free and fair.”
– P. Nhial, Sudanese Community Leader, Kakuma1
“I oppose the constitution. Not even 1% of the camp population is aware about this idea so it should be pushed to 2013. These are the rules of one person, one pen and one chair. Refugees are vulnerable. Oppression, corruption and bribes will increase under the regime of one governor. People do not have proper knowledge of this constitution as a large portion of th population is illiterate. That is why the rule-makers are taking advantage of our vulnerability.”
– S. Bashir, Somali Darod Community Leader
“I simply oppose it. We should call off this election. The Community must think critically about the current Constitution before undertaking this election. Multinational difference is not easy to overcome in overnight. I suggest that communities remain under the previous leadership and community governance.”
– Gabriel, Sudanese Youth Leader in Kakuma1
“I am against the Constitution and the election. These are two major things but have been combined together within a very short time. Why? What will be the long-term consequences after these laws are passed? People should know what is happening. They should also give their consent to stop negative effects in the future.”
– G. Mohamed, Arupe Distance Learning Student
“I don’t know what will be the outcome. There should be clear criteria for verifying candidates. People in the various blocks and zones should understand it and be able to know what is expected of them. This will be empowering for them – to know who to vote for and why.”
– Congolese Incentive Staff at NGO
“Human ‘warehousing’ not only violates the rights of refugees, it also impinges on the national sovereignty of hosts and often threatens peace and security between hosts and source nations and their neighbors. Warehousing generally involves allocating vast chunks of territory to foreign administration, not only in the distribution of rations but in exercising several key aspects of sovereignty such as refugee status determinations and even basic law enforcement.”
–Merrill Smith of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, speaking on International Politics and Humanitarian Action
“Some refugees are not allowed to travel since they don’t have ration cards or their ration cards got de-activated by the UNHCR after rejections on the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) procedures in Kakuma and hence left unrecognized, so none of the NGOs in camp can offer them any assistance that are required by the refugees or asylum seekers while many of them have been living in the camp.”
-KANERE journalist speaking on the right to movement and lack of protection after living in Kakuma Camp for six years facing RSD rejection
“I always wish to visit my people in Tanzania, but I heard the Kenyan laws do not allow and I wish to know what does the Kenyan law say about going abroad? I have ten years now staying in Kakuma Refugee Camp missing all my family and relatives.”
-Simon commenting on the right to movement outside Kakuma Camp without a UNHCR-issued permit
“Refugees want words to be replaced by actions when they speak about refugees as real people with real needs. Much emphasis is placed on the actual refugee situation as opposed to refugees’ real sufferings. However, the [humanitarian] agency staffs who speak on their behalf do not feel it exactly.”
-A refugee community leader, commenting on the World Refugee Day celebration at Napata Grounds in Kakuma Camp
“But it’s not always accessible. Sometimes we have electric power shortage and the cyber cafe itself is not enough. I felt dark for the period of no network service and alternatively, the only help is if NGOs could establish other network services in the camp.”
-Tamrat, a young Ethiopian man, commenting on the impact of not having reliable internet services in the camp
“They should at least give the youth simple jobs such as cleaning or any job that does not require much skills. Why should they recruit people from as far away as 500km they can get them here?”
-Eyinei Samuel, a Kenyan Kakuma resident and youth leader, commenting on local Turkana public demonstrations on what they termed as lack of rights
To all KANERE readers here and abroad:
Hello! We apologize that our May-June issue was not published in time due to a lack of the internet service and funds to run the operations as scheduled.
As a new incoming chief editor, Qaabata Boru, I recognize and thank our former editor, bethany ojalehto, for all her efforts. Her great inspirations and dedications have brought considerable changes in the Kakuma Refugee Camp.
Throughout May and June Kakuma was dusty from the wind that blows frequently for almost the whole month. Temperatures were very high. World Refugee Day on June 20th was also celebrated by all the NGO staff and refugees, and a bloody murder occurred among other events.
We are strengthening our commitment to a free press despite the challenges and limitations to carrying out operations.
KANERE appeals to any interested donor to fund the project.
I welcome all comments and contributions from all our readers on the planet.
Please address all correspondence to firstname.lastname@example.org.
the KANERE Editor,
Volume 1, Issue 5-6 / May-June 2009
Some of the Sudanese refugees in kakuma refugee camp claim that they are not ready for repatriation.
Volume 1, Issue 5-6 / May-June 2009
25 refugees students who completed their secondary school education embrace unusual opportunity of joining Canada university each year.