UNHCR statistics show that Kenya hosts an estimate of 74206 registered refugees, 64000 of them living in the urban areas. However, there is no clear statistics on the number of intersex, transgender and gender non-conforming refugees living in the urban areas. As a refugee, registration and documentation is a very key process this not only guarantees you a sense of
security but is also proof of identity and proof that you are legally in Kenya which goes a long way to influence your life in Kenya. However in the recent times changes in law and policies and prevailing circumstances such as Covid-19 have affected the registration and documentation of refugees. ITGNC refugees are not an exception to these changes. However there is no research material that highlights the challenges and experiences faced by ITGNC refugees in the registration process. This article focuses on the challenges faced by ITGNC refugees in the registration and documentation processes. Changes in administration have really stalled the registration process. Prior to 2016, the UNHCR was mandated to deal with the registration of refugees. However in 2016 this mandate was transferred to the National Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS). This change in regime has not only delayed the process but also left the refugees in a state of confusion since most of them who had commenced the process are not sure whether they have to start the process all over again or they can continue with the process under the Refugee Affairs Secretariat . Further, refugees have since been experiencing several delays. The law provides that the Refugee Status Determination decision has to be made within 90 days. However, this is not the case in practice since in certain cases this interview is not even scheduled within 90 days .Furthermore , in other cases there is no communication that is made to the refugees on the Refugee Status Determination decision. A fact that necessitates them to keep on calling the hotline number with the hope that they can get a positive feedback but to no avail. Some refugees also lack the requisite information on the steps that need be taken by them in order to be recognized as refugees in Kenya. Access to information is key to such persons for them to start following up on their registration and documentation .Without this information, they continue living without documentation a fact that puts them at risk especially with the police force. The constant change in policies and regimes has left most refugees in a state of confusion as to what steps to take. Language barrier has also been a hinderance to this process. This is usually experienced during the Refugee Status Determination Interview. In most cases the language used during this interviews is English and Swahili. However, most of these refugees only understand the language of their country of origin for example Luganda ,Lingala amongst others. Despite there being a translator, it is asserted that some of these translators are transphobic, a fact that makes most of these refugees fear to express themselves and clearly explain who they really are. It has also been a challenge for some of these refugees to even book an interview with RAS. This has been attributed to the rescheduling of dates by officials. Some refugees have had their appointment dates rescheduled for three years. On the other hand, others have not been able to book an appointment date for years. They keep writing emails and contacting the RAS and UNHCR offices to no avail. Suspension of the process has also affected refugees. This is due to the Covid-19 Pandemic which led to a 18 months closure of the RAS offices. In addition, the transfer of this mandate from UNHCR to RAS has been a big blow to the refugees. Most had started the process with the UNHCR but are unable to proceed because of the difference in documents given under the new regime. For example, most of those who started the process after 2016 have the asylum seeker pass while those who commenced before 2016 have the asylum seeker certificate. The officials involved are also not well versed with ITGNC issues. This has been the case mostly in the Refugee Status Determination Interview. Most of these officials have a perception that refugees are those running away from civil wars and political instability in their countries. This results in the stigmatization and discrimination of ITGNC refugees. There are also no ITGNC inclusive desks at the RAS reception office .The reception office is the first point of contact for these persons. These offices need to have a separate desk handling ITGNC refugees. This will go a long way in reducing transphobia and also giving these persons a safe space to express who they really are. These challenges not only require policy and administrative reforms but also practical solutions such as sensitization of officials in these departments.
JKUAT Legal Clinic