, GENEVA, Mar 29 – The UN refugee agency has criticised Kenya’s decision to order all refugees, most of them Somalis, to report to two overcrowded camps after a deadly attack on a church.
“UNHCR understands Kenya’s need to address security concerns,” said Adrian Edwards, spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
“Reinforcement of law enforcement measures are important in this regard, but blanket measures that target people based on nationality or membership of a group is discriminatory. It can create suffering for innocent people and is usually ineffective,” he told reporters in Geneva.
Kenya issued its order on Tuesday, following a weekend attack by unknown gunmen near the port city of Mombasa that killed six people, and came amid heightened warnings of a threat of Islamist violence in Kenya despite boosted security in major cities.
Kenya has been hit by a series of attacks since sending troops into southern Somalia in 2011 to battle Al-Qaeda-linked Shabaab insurgents — the deadliest being an assault by Islamist commandos last September on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall that claimed 67 lives.
“Insecurity affects all communities and populations alike. Scapegoating refugees is no answer. Refugees are as much at risk from insecurity as the wider Kenyan population,” said Edwards.
Kenyan officials have also asked locals to report to police any refugees or illegal immigrants who remained outside the remote and overcrowded camps — Dadaab in the east and Kakuma in the northwest.
Dadaab, where people often live in appalling conditions, is home to more than 400,000 mainly Somali refugees, while Kakuma, a vast desert settlement, is home to more than 125,000 refugees from across the region, including Somalia.
To the UN refugee agency, “blanket implementation of the encampment measures carries threats to human dignity, equality and freedom. It has no regard for individual circumstances and is therefore arbitrary and unreasonable,” Edwards said.
Rights groups in Kenya have accused police in the past of a brutal campaign against Somali refugees, following a string of grenade attacks and shootings blamed on supporters or members of the Shabaab.
Edwards echoed those concerns, showing that past measures against refugees had been “accompanied by increased police harassment, detention and extortion”.
The country had previously ordered all asylum seekers and refugees to report to the camps in December 2012, after attacks that included blasts in a largely ethnic-Somali neighbourhood of the capital Nairobi.