THE REFUGEE BILL 2019: A RELIEF FOR REFUGEES IN KENYA

[sbs_blog_stats]The Refugees Bill of 2019 is among the Bills signed by the president earlier this November. This
law embodies a difficult but necessary journey in improving the lives of refugees in Kenya. It is
the successful attempt at improving the current legal framework following a previous failed
attempt in the year 2017. The importance of this bill cannot be gainsaid and comes at a very
crucial time. This article looks into the development of refugee law in Kenya and discusses the
relevance of the 2019 Bill.
As early as 1963 to date, Kenya has been a safe haven for refugees seeking safety away from
their hostile home countries. Over the years, Kenya has hosted refugees from Uganda, Congo,
Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia. The number of refugees residing in the country has steadily
increased over years and currently, Kenya is home to about half a million refugees. The majority
of these refugees have been residing within the Daadab and Kakuma encampments with a
minority living in urban areas.
Despite Kenya being a hosting country since its independence, development of refugee
protection laws was slow with the first law enacted for Refugees being the Refugee Act of 2006.
Granted, before 2006 Kenya had been a signatory to International laws that protected refugees,
however these international laws were not domesticated. Thus, the Refugee Act of 2006 was
the first of its kind enacted for the protection, recognition and management of refugees. This law
was step in the right direction. However, the influx of refugees to the country brought on a
contending interest of National Security. Therefore, while on one hand there was the need to
protect refugees, on the other hand the government was tasked with ensuring that wars from
the neighbouring countries did not spill over to Kenya. These efforts culminated in the
enactment of the Security Laws (amendment) Act of 2014. Section 47 of this act is relevant in
our discussion as it altered the Refugees Act to the effect that the movement of refugees was
limited to Daadab and Kakuma camps. In order to move out of the camps, one was required to
seek permission from a Refugee Camp Officer.
While in theory the amendment still allowed movement of refugees though limited, in practice,
the process was not as easy and straight forward. Refugees through various stakeholders
expressed their dissatisfaction over the bureaucracy that required the refugee to have a refugee
certificate that took years to process before applying for a work permit. The frustration borne
from the established processes had the effect of limiting the opportunities for refugees to better
themselves. The refugees were then stuck in a sort of limbo where they fled their country due to
security risks but now are stuck in a foreign country with no means of improving their lives.
Owing to this situation and a great deal of advocacy by stakeholders, a discussion on a new Act
to replace the out-dated Refugees Act of 2006 was borne. The first attempt of enacting a new
Refugee statute failed in 2017 on grounds of lack of public participation. Two years later, fresh
attempts were made and the Refugee Bill of 2019 was introduced in Parliament by Honourable
Adan Duale. This Bill proved to be a success and is soon to be enacted as law.
The aim of the Refugees Bill of 2019 is to provide for the recognition, protection and
management of refugees as well as to give effect to both the United Nations Convention
Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 as well as the OAU Convention Governing the

Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa of 1969. Section 3(c) of the Bill an additional
definition to the term refugee as a person compelled to leave his country of origin or habitual
residence owing to external aggression or foreign domination in any part or whole of his country.
The Bill makes modification on the Administrative institutions tasked with handling refugee
matters. Under the Bill, there are three administrative bodies established; the Department of
Refugee Services, the Refugee Advisory Committee and the Refugee Status Appeals
Committee. The Department of Refugee Services is responsible for administrative matters
concerning refugees and is headed by a Commissioner. The Commissioner in the new law has
added responsibilities primarily concerned with maintenance of designated areas. Amongst a
number of functions, the commissioner is tasked with receiving and processing applications for
refugee status The Bill also introduces a Refugee Status Eligibility Panel tasked with reviewing
the recommendations made on refugee status determination.
The Refugees Advisory Committee consists of; the Commissioner, persons representing
various ministries of the government, the Attorney General and the Inspector General amongst
others. The Committee is tasked with advising the Cabinet Secretary on matters of national
policy and matter relating to refugees. The Refugee Status Appeals Board is tasked with
hearing and determining appeals against the decision of the Commissioner with regard to
rejection of individual application for refugee status and cancellation and termination of refugee
status.
Part V of the Bill is on the rights and duties of refugees and asylum seekers. Section 28(4)
recognizes the refugee’s social economic right and a duty is placed on both the National and
County Governments to facilitate access to and issuance of the necessary documentation.
When read together with the sections 34 and 35 of the Bill on integration of refugees, it is quite
clear that the aim to mesh the lives of the refugees with the hosting communities to ensure
comfort and overall improve the lives of the said refugees. Additionally, the availability of
designated areas allows the refugees a freedom of movement as they are not contained within
refugee camps. Section 29 of the Bill introduces the right to non-refoulement of refugees where
a person shall not be refused entry into Kenya or expelled from Kenya if as a result of the
refusal or expulsion the person will be compelled to return to a country where he may face
persecution.
The Refugees Bill brings with it hope for a better life for refugees in Kenya. It is the early
morning light marking a new dawn in the lives of refugees in Kenya.


Fatma Diba
JKUAT Legal Clinic

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