United States preferred havens for Kenyans seeking asylum

0 2

United States, Ethiopia preferred havens for Kenyans seeking asylum

More than 11,000 Kenyans are living outside the country as refugees or asylum seekers, according to United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) data, even as Kenya remains a world-renowned haven for people fleeing political turmoil and violence in their countries.

The figure does not cover people who have fled the country in the past under similar circumstances but have not sought such protection. Such examples of Kenyans who have been in exile but not as refugees include celebrated author Prof Ngugi wa Thiong’o, literary icon and activist Prof Micere Mugo and politician and human rights activist Koigi wa Wamwere.

- Advertisement -

Rankings

The United States and Ethiopia have been the most preferred destinations for Kenyans seeking asylum, accounting for about 70 percent of refugees and asylum seekers each year for the last 10 years, according to the UNHCR database as at September 2018.

A NationNewsplex analysis of the figures shows that in 2016, the two countries catered for 37 percent (4,068) and 34 percent (3,750) respectively of that year’s 11,071 Kenyan refugees and asylum seekers. Canada was third (five percent), followed by Germany (4.6 percent), and the United Kingdom (four percent).

The number of people seeking refuge from most of Kenya’s neighbours are higher. The 2016 figure ranks the country fifth in the East African Community (EAC) ahead of Tanzania, EAC’s fastest-growing economy, which was a distant sixth with 1,789.

South Sudan (4,048,582) leads in the number of asylum seekers and refugees. It is followed by Burundi (741,841), Rwanda (309,844) and Uganda (191,506). Even though this is the lowest number in over 10 years, this sizeable community of Kenyans amounts to a dent in the country’s otherwise historically positive international profile as a refugee destination.

The data shows that the campaign period leading up to the 2007 General Election saw a gradual rise in the number of Kenyans seeking refuge abroad. However, it is the post-election violence and its aftermath that saw the numbers hit an all-time high, increasing seven-fold from the previous year.

The data shows that the campaign period leading up to the 2007 General Election saw a gradual rise in the number of Kenyans seeking refuge abroad. However, it is the post-election violence and its aftermath that saw the numbers hit an all-time high, increasing seven-fold from the previous year.

Despite the strong economic ties between Kenya and China, the world’s second largest economy has been not been preferred by Kenyan asylum seekers, receiving just five – the highest it have ever hosted. Even Brazil, another non-traditional host of Kenyan refugees, outdid China. For every Kenyan who sought asylum in China, eight picked Brazil.

According to the UNHCR’s deputy representative for Kenya, Walpurga Englbrecht, asylum seekers prefer countries that, among other things, will guarantee their safety, facilitate the process leading to registration as a refugee, have favourable integration policies and opportunities for socio-economic development, and have a similar or a near-similar culture with their country of origin.

Home away from home
However, the experiences of many people like Nancy Mukami, a 48-year-old government nurse show that people fleeing sudden breakout of violence never have the opportunity to pick a country of destination. Many, especially those living close to the national boundaries cross over to the neighbouring country in pursuit of a relatively more peaceful environment.

Nancy, who worked in Murang’a town had just been transferred to Mandera in 2004, but before she could settle down in her new station, inter-clan conflicts erupted, forcing her to cross over into Somalia. ”I could not readily find a way back home. And with a young child and far away from home, I had to find the shortest route out of town, so I followed the rest who were crossing the border,” she says.

Nancy and her six-year-old daughter ended up in a refugee camp in Somalia where they lived for six months as the conflict persisted. All this while she could not come to terms with the fact that she had fled from a generally stable and peaceful country, and sought refuge in another with one of the worst security and humanitarian records in the world.

However, the bigger setback for her was socio-economic, as she could no longer fend for herself and family but rely on aid. ”It took weeks before I could even communicate with my employer, and I did not know what will become of my job and career,” she says.

All former refugees and asylum seekers that the Newsplex interviewed said that life as a refugee has many challenges, most of which can be addressed by better management of the affairs of asylum seekers and refugees by the relevant authorities in host nations. ”Life can never be as normal as it was back home, but the situation can be more bearable with constant supply of basic needs, and if refugees can enjoy their rights like human beings without any discrimination,” said a 63year-old who was a Kenyan refugee in Tanzania in the 1980s.

General elections
Over the years, general elections, especially those marred by tension, violence or potential for violence, have been the peak seasons for flight from Kenya.

The year 2008, which was marked by post-election violence, witnessed the highest numbers ever, with 862,617 people recorded as either refugees or asylum seekers, 753,340 (87 percent) of whom were enlisted in the same year.

The data shows that the campaign period leading up to the 2007 General Election saw a gradual rise in the number of Kenyans seeking refuge abroad. However, it is the post-election violence and its aftermath that saw the numbers hit an all-time high, increasing seven-fold from the previous year.

The number then dropped consistently for the following two years to 330,417 in 2011 before building up again and climaxing at 442,499 in 2012, the year before the General Election, indicating that this time round, people fearing violence were more proactive than reactive, and therefore fled the country in anticipation of chaos. The 2012 significant spike of 34 percent from the previous year is, however, a drop in the ocean compared with the 689 percent record of 2008.

The 2012 flight was, however, mitigated by the relatively peaceful, though highly contested, 2013 General Election, hence a 93 percent drop to 30,796 at the end of the election year. The numbers then continued to drop annually until 2016.

Refugee policy
As Kenya appears to be exiting the refugee supply chain, it is equally drifting away from the receiving end of the refugee equation.

In 2018, Kenya has recorded the lowest number of refugees and asylum seekers in five years which, according to the UNHCR, currently stands at 486,460. This is an 18 percent drop from 2015 (593,881) when the numbers began to decline.

Following a tripartite agreement signed in 2013 between the governments of Kenya and Somalia and the UNHCR, 82,305 Somali refugees have been assisted to voluntarily return home.

Contrary to the popular belief that refugees are a burden to the local economy, the World Bank reported in 2016 that Kenya could reap huge benefits through integration of foreign refugees into the local economy and culture. The Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya has been showcased around the world as a case study of the immense economic benefits refugee integration can bring to the host community.

The report indicated that the Gross Regional Product of the Turkana region increases permanently by 3.4 percent and the total employment by nearly three per cent, thus concluding that the refugee presence has had a beneficial impact on Turkana’s economy.

”Refugees can make meaningful economic contribution only if they are free to enjoy their rights and their needs, which include access to necessary documents, are catered for,” says Englbrecht.

As of 2016, one in every 113 people in the world was either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum, the highest rate in history. The process of receiving and registering asylum seekers and providing them with the necessary documents to prove their legal status has therefore become slower in many countries experiencing a refugee influx.

In international law, a refugee is a person forced to flee his or her country because of persecution and is receiving protection under international refugee laws. Asylum seekers, on the other hand, are individuals who have sought international protection and whose claims for refugee status have not yet been determined.

nation.co.ke

Source Daily Nation
You might also like

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.