Human Rights Abuses and Protection of the Rights of Refugees – Activist Nhial Kheer

South Sudanese Refugee Children in Kakuma/Photo Source: World VisionSouth Sudanese Refugee Children in Kakuma/Photo Source: World Vision

Human Rights Abuses and Protection of the Rights of Refugees.

Who is a Refugee?

Refugees by definition are victims of human rights violations. According to Article 1(a) (2) of the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 (hereinafter referred to as Refugee Convention) the term ‘refugee’ shall apply to “any persons who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.

Although ‘persecution’ is not defined in the Refugee Convention, it can be defined in terms of ‘the sustained or systematic violation of basic human rights demonstrative of a failure of state protection’. ‘A well-founded fear of persecution’ exists when one reasonably anticipates that the failure to leave the country may result in a form of serious harm which the government cannot or will not prevent. Persecution encompasses harassment from state actors as well as non-state actors.

It is the risk of human rights violations in their home country which compels the refugees to cross international borders and seek protection abroad. Consequently, safeguarding human rights in countries of origin is of critical importance not only to the prevention of refugee problems but also for their solutions. “If conditions have fundamentally changed in the country of origin promoting and monitoring the safety of their voluntary return allows refugees to re-establish themselves in their own community and to enjoy their basic human rights”. Respect for human rights is also essential for the protection of refugees in countries where they are integrated locally or re-settled.

It is therefore the burden of this document to briefly elaborate refugee human rights and how they are constantly being abused in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. Among these rights are:

Food Security

Food security refers to the ability of individuals, households, and communities to acquire appropriate and nutritious food on a regular and reliable basis, using socially acceptable means whereas Food insecurity is defined as the disruption of food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other resources. Food insecurity can be:

Low food security: reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet. Little or no indication of reduced food intake.
Very low food security: multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.
Global hunger has been on the rise, largely as a result of various forms of crisis—persistent conflicts, severe climate impacts, and food insecurity. More than half of all undernourished people live in countries affected by conflict. The relationship between conflict and food security often creates a vicious cycle as food scarcity leads to market disruptions, which lead to further decreases in food availability, and greater disruption. Climate shocks can have similar impacts on food security. Crises have driven millions of people to migrate away from their communities. Many forcibly displaced people become refugees, and if refugee populations do not receive adequate support, they can create further instability, contributing to rising food and nutrition insecurity, especially when they cross borders.

In Kakuma a refugee is given a ration of… and $5(Ksh 500) for 30 days. This ration can’t sustain him or her within a week not even a month. As a result of these challenges, many refugees are resorting to negative coping mechanisms, such as skipping meals or reducing meal portions. In some cases, refugees are resorting to begging, transactional sex, or early or forced marriages to be able to afford food. Others are opting to go back to their home countries to suffer there than to die of hunger in a foreign country. This becomes an eyesore for those who are informed on matters refugees, however when one complains to the UN agencies and the information goes out, then you will be sought for by the police and silenced temporarily or permanently using oppressional means. I don’t know whether UNHCR or WFP knows about this.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, leads international action to protect people forced to flee their home countries because of conflict and persecution. They deliver life-saving assistance like shelter, food and water, help safeguard fundamental human rights, and develop solutions that ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future. Honestly, this becomes a secondary consideration when it comes to Kakuma Refugee camp. With the USD 5 a month, it is not easy to build a better future because the refugees here are ever disturbed trying to figure out what to eat for the entire month. Of course, thoughts are expensive and with high-energy consumption, one cannot think clearly without food which supplies energy to the brain. This has sadly caused great depression and mental instability in addition to the mal-nourishment that emanates from poor feeding habits.
Sincerely speaking, refugees in Kakuma are living under cramped conditions and they struggle every single day to meet their basic needs. Their level of happiness which they used to have has wilted away. It is therefore the right time for the UNHCR to come to the rescue of the refugees in Kakuma and save them from outrageous depression.

Freedom of Movement

Freedom of movement, however, is also a key right for refugees within their host country. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, art. 12. Article 26 of the 1951 Convention provides that States shall afford refugees the right to choose their place of residence within the territory and to move freely within the State. Meanwhile, Article 28 obliges State parties to issue refugees travel documents permitting them to travel outside the State “unless compelling reasons of national security or public order otherwise require.” In Kakuma Refugee Camp, refugees who are granted traveling documents by the Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS) are still asked to pay money by police on their way to and fro the camp. There are four police checks between Kakuma and Kapenguria (a town in Kenya). All these check points demand money from refugees even those with travelling permits. If money is not given to them, they retain the refugees in prison and ask them to call their relatives to send money so that they are released. They most of the times demand $50-$300 when one is arrested. This act has inconvenient refugees who are students in Kenyan Universities. Whenever they are free and they opt to travel back to the camp to visit their relatives, these are challenges that always befall them on their way.

Right to Liberty and Security of the person

The right to liberty and security of the person is important in the context of how asylum seekers are treated within the intended country of refuge.
Community policing has become a popular way of promoting local ownership of security in refugee camps in Kenya and more widely, but it can also fall victim to its ambivalent position at the intersection of refugee communities and state policing.
Making refugee camps ‘safe’ for their residents is the responsibility of police, military or other national security forces in host countries. Aid agencies and governments alike acknowledge that the (physical) protection of camp refugees is meaningless without refugees’ own active participation. As a consequence, a number of camps are now policed jointly by national police and refugee auxiliary forces that operate under special agreements and a Community Policing framework.

As a governance strategy, community policing aims to create a direct link between local communities and official government forces in an attempt to curb violence and crime, and build a sustainable relationship of trust with the population. In many African societies, community police have even become the predominant providers of everyday security services in the face of corruption, distrust of the police, or weak performance of official authorities. Local policing initiatives emerge as ready alternatives to deliver justice and security by making use of local knowledge, customary practices and/or traditional leadership networks.

In refugee camps, with diverse multi-faith and multi-ethnic populations, policymakers are now seeking to embed security operations in local structures. Today, community policing in refugee camps exists across a variety of geographical locations, social environments and cultures, and their responsibilities are expanding. These responsibilities encompass information exchange, mediation between parties to a conflict, crowd control and showing a physical presence in the camp through daily foot patrols and security sweeps thereby demonstrating ‘refugee ownership’ of security operations on the ground.

In Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in Kenya, NGOs and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, routinely face resistance from refugee communities that are understandably skeptical of outside interference. A rudimentary community policing scheme in Dadaab, first introduced in 2007, has since evolved into Community Peace and Protection Teams (CPPTs) under the auspices of the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). However, severe mobility restrictions in and around Dadaab and the strength of clan-based forms of organization have strongly influenced CPPTs’ behaviour within the communities and across the camps.

Security in Kakuma

The case of Kakuma refugee camp illustrates some of the more ambivalent and conflicting aspects of community-based policing in humanitarian contexts. Kakuma lies in Kenya’s remote north-western Turkana County and comprises a patchwork of 18 national and numerous ethnic refugee communities who have escaped various conflicts in the region over the past 24 years. In May 2016, Kakuma was home to over 192,000 refugees, the majority coming from South Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Ethiopia. This heterogeneity and the wide geographical expanse of the camp make policing a challenging task.

Kenya’s government security agencies hold responsibility for law enforcement but also operate alongside commercial security companies hired to secure the humanitarian compounds. Security reports reveal a wide range of crimes occurring in the camp – sexual violence and rape, domestic violence, banditry, theft, inter-communal clashes, organized crimes, drug abuse, boot-legging, traffic violations and disturbance of public order – but Kenya’s police itself is a source of insecurity, corruption and extortion especially within Kakuma. Instead of helping supplementing the community policing, they are the ones that carry out extortions of refugees.

Community policing in refugee camps seeks to mitigate these concerns by actively engaging local communities where outside intervention is unwanted or feared. In Kakuma, LWF manages the CPPTs, a refugee force that cooperates with the Kenyan police in patrolling, crime investigation and crowd control. The current program has its origins in an earlier security initiative – ‘refugee guards’ – and now exists alongside various other community-specific customary justice mechanisms.

Over recent years, LWF has made efforts to discourage sectarianism and ethnic affiliations within its community policing forces but with only limited success. Kakuma is visibly divided between a large number of different refugee communities, and of course CPPTs are recruited from these very communities. Despite using an aspirational language that dissociates policing work from ethnicity and clan, the CPPTs are very much rooted in their respective ethnic communities and clans. Some community administration buildings even serve as operational bases for CPPTs’ patrols, interrogations, or mediation between conflict parties.

To refugees in need of assistance and physical protection, CPPTs may seem more accessible and less intimidating than the Kenyan police, and every block has at least two assigned refugee officers on duty, day and night. In theory, CPPTs are responsible for information gathering in police inquiries because of their language skills and knowledge of local communities. In emergencies, refugees contact these local staff who assess the situation and then request police reinforcements or an ambulance, if required. And indeed, it is not without reason that the CPPTs are habitually referred to as the ‘eyes and ears’ of the police and UNHCR.

However, this close association has also created a new set of problems; some residents perceive CPPTs as spies and collaborators in a camp system of surveillance and control and as agents of corruption, not protection. Ironically, CPPTs are at the same time exposed to police violence, especially when appearing to interfere with or encroaching upon police responsibilities. Community policing in Kakuma is therefore contingent not only on the legitimacy of CPPTs in resolving disputes and cultivating trustful relations with refugee communities but also on their actual and perceived liaison with national police forces.

Instead of being well protected, the refugees are harassed and randomly arrested by police on no cause. While in prison, a demand of $50 or more from the arrested refugee who received USD 5 on a monthly basis is demanded by the police to aid the release of the arrested individual. They are denied access to courts. The 1951 Convention also protects other rights of refugees, such as the rights to education, access to justice, employment, and other fundamental freedoms and privileges similarly enshrined in international and regional human rights treaties. In their enjoyment of some rights, such as access to the courts, refugees are to be afforded the same treatment as nationals while with others, such as wage-earning employment and property rights, refugees are to be afforded the same treatment as foreign nationals.

In case, the one arrested is a victim, money is demanded for release without making them face justice. This increases rates of crimes in the camp.
In an effort to control police misconduct, there is an accelerating trend for UN and government agencies to engage directly in investigations and to have greater inputs into disciplinary decisions. To protect their interests, some officers have resorted to verbal intimidation as well as physical violence against Refugees attempting to record their misdeeds. In other circumstances, police will illegally seize or delete evidence recorded by refugees, in spite of laws that make it a crime to destroy evidence of a crime being committed. Hence, the refugees in Kakuma are suffering in dignified silence.


Human rights violations are a major factor in causing the flight of refugees as well as an obstacle to their safety and voluntary return home. Safeguarding human rights in countries of origin is therefore critical both for the prevention and for the solution of refugee problems. Respect for human rights is also essential for the protection of refugees in countries of asylum.

Now is the time for a progressive development of a global approach to the refugee problem, an approach which should take due cognizance of the basic human rights of refugees and interests of the asylum countries and the international community, and secures the cooperation of all parties in seeking a solution to the problem. Given the close link between refugees and human rights, international human rights standards are powerful ammunitions for enhancing and complementing the existing refugee protection regime and giving it proper orientation and direction. Since the refugee problem is an important aspect of human rights protection, human rights groups, humanitarian organization, the UNHCR, Governments and U.N. human rights agencies should take a hard look at their respective roles and make coordinated efforts for elimination of human rights abuses and protection of the rights of refugees.

Activist Nhial Kheer Duoi, Contact me via

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