BWIRE: Refugees in East Africa urgently need government support and protection

BWIRE: Refugees in East Africa urgently need government support and protection
Dadaab Refuge Camp

There is an urgent need from Governments in the East Africa region and international players to establish protection and support mechanisms that will ensure that the human rights of refugees and migrants are not violated.

Existing approaches and attention to the migration into the region and the status of refugees are exposing them to not only human rights violations including lack of access to education, health and food but involvement in criminal activities.

With the political situation in South Sudan increasingly becoming volatile, the continued onslaught against a section part of the citizenry by the Government of Ethiopia and related terrorist activities in Somalia, there is still need for international attention and resources to ensure migrants to and from the region are protected from the serious human rights violations they face while on route and in host countries.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that while Governments in the East Africa region are deescalating their attention to refugee and migrant issues, the number of people into the region is on the increase, and with current stringent laws relation to migrant movements orchestrated by indications that terrorist activities in some incidences are related to migrants, increasing harassment including arrests, kidnappings, extortion, sexual abuse and related human rights abuses have become the order of the day.

An October 2017 study entitled Migrants moving across Weighing the Risks- Protection risks and human rights violations faced by migrants in and from East Africa by the Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS) has established that migrants in and from the region face a number of human rights violations while on the journey or in host countries.

The study reveals that apart from the poor living conditions they face while on transit and in refugee camps in host countries, they suffer at the hands of smugglers and brokers especially at the national borders, including from criminal gangs and government officers and given their illegal status, are exposed to a lot abuses.

The study makes strong recommendations for the establishment and ending human rights protection mechanisms for migrants in and from the East Africa region so that the suffering and abuses these people go through and stopped.

The need for enhanced cross boarder long term joint activities to stop the human rights abuses facing migrants in the region by actors is largely is based on emerging facts that there is an escalation of root causes of migrations to the region.

The increased political tension in South Sudan and Kenya’s long porous border with Somalia, its relative stability in a volatile region, constrained border management capacity and alleged complicity of corrupt officials are said to fuel the status of the country as a hub for irregular movement and undocumented migrants.

While Kenya is a signatory to the international conventions on refugees and has a legal regime on the same, security reasons especially terrorism and radicalization seem to have taken precedence as Governments make decisions to scale down attentions and resources on refugee issues.

Internationally, there is a general agreement about to need for search for durable solutions as advanced by the United National High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). The attention to the refugees issue has also ignited the debate on whether a new focus, in addition to the humanitarian approach to the issue is sufficient, or as UNHCR says, we need to add a development approach to solving the issue.

Indeed players such as the African Inland Church Health Ministries are already piloting the development approach, in Kakuma and Kalobeyei camps where the refugees are trained and equipped to do business with the host community, thus acquiring skills that they could use when they return home or resettle.

Similarly, there are nearly 10,000 refugees that await movement to third countries- a process that needs a quick relook. The time for processing resident documents in Kenya that are very critical in the settlement process to third countries takes a lot of time.

A number of those urban refugees are in the middle of relocation. Given the sensitive of the matter, a lot of security and intelligence goes into the process, which prolongs it which extends the transit process long and tedious. Should we for example, reexamine the process and find a more quick and transparent process so that we shorten the transit period for refugees?

There is a need for continued consultative meetings and engagements between the various players involved on matters refugees as we search for durable solutions to the problem, for given what is happening in the neighboring countries, the refugee issue is here to stay.

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Story By Victor Bwire
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