Sep 3, 2015

Why the European Reaction Towards Migrants & Asylum Seekers is a Threat to Humanity

The world is currently immersed in news of human migration across the Mediterranean Sea. Thousands of people escaping unresolved conflicts and poverty in the Middle East and North Africa have arrived in Europe in the last couple of years to seek asylum. This is the hugest migration since the Second World War. 

Traditionally, migrants fleeing their homes would seek asylum in neighboring countries where they would either live in refugee camps or settle in urban areas. Times have however changed and many of them would now rather be smuggled in un-seaworthiness vessels to seek a better life in Europe. 

As a result, more than 2,000 migrants have died crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year. Thousands more have been rescued. 

During the first seven months of 2015, there were nearly 340,000 migrants entering Europe, up from 123,500 in the same period last year. In August, the numbers hit a record high of 107,500. 

While the numbers are likely to increase, some European countries have shown reluctance in receiving the migrants. The British Prime Minister, David Cameron recently showed his phobia for migrants attempting to enter the UK by using a dehumanizing language when he referred to them as a swam of people. 

Some countries like Macedonia and Hungary have shown hostility to asylum seekers already within their borders. Hungary in particular has built a wall along its borders to prevent their entry. In August, asylum seekers were dispersed by teargas at a refugee registration point in Macedonia. Others were barred from boarding trains in Hungary. 

As a result, they have had to forcefully cross over countries at the front row of the Mediterranean Sea into Western Europe. Most of them hope to arrive in Germany which has shown a softer stand on migration. 

It’s against international conventions on asylum to forcefully return migrants home if they have valid claims for asylum. The European Union and its member states will therefore have no choice but to accept migrants and share asylum responsibility under the international framework. 

This is not a European crisis but rather a global problem that should concern all nations including those from which migrants are fleeing. For now, it may be of little interest to the rest of the world but ultimately, no country should really exclude itself from issues of forced migration. 

It is impossible to talk about human displacement without bringing up the issue of climate change. If we are scared of conflict related migration, then we should be more scared of climate change induced displacement. There isn’t any nation that is immune to effects of increased global temperatures.

Scientists have openly warned that if states do not reduce their gas emissions, global temperatures will continue rising to unbearable levels. If they rise above the limit of two degrees, the world could be exposed to catastrophic climatic changes that will spur human migration like never seen before.

Climate change has already had far reaching effects in several parts of the world. In 2011, thousands of Somali refugees flee into Kenya and Ethiopia with a mix of problems including intensified conflicts in Somalia and a severe drought that engulfed the Horn of Africa.

 Elsewhere in the pacific, some island nations are poised to be wiped out completely if global temperatures keep rising. Think of the tropical island paradise Maldives which is known for its white sand beaches. It may not be around for much longer if expert predictions are right. 

Shall there be no fix to global warming; Maldivians and other islanders in that region will unfortunately be forced to seek alternative settlements elsewhere in the world. 

Global temperatures below two degrees are not only foreseen to cause severe storms and droughts, they will also deplete natural resources and livelihoods. Food security and access to drinking water will be a big challenge and dependency shall most likely be the new normal. With all these, it is inevitable that people will migrate to seek alternative lives. 

With these facts, it beats logic to have some nations demonstrate xenophobia towards migrants, yet it’s their international responsibility to extend them asylum.  

It’s understandable that human migration would often bring about security challenges including terrorism. However, the idea of putting up expensive fences at border areas to prevent any entry of asylum seekers violates human rights.

Apparently, the current rate of global gas emissions could raise the temperatures to the two degrees limit in a few years. It can only be hoped that the United Nations conference on climate change in Paris this November will strongly put into perspective issues of climate induced migration.

In the meantime, our efforts to enhance global security should promote human dignity and not erode it. The mare fact that all of us are at risk of displacement should be a constant reminder that migration for asylum is a human right.Nobody is free, for as long as others are not.
The author is an International Relations Scholar
& a Communication and Advocacy consultant in Nairobi
Twitter: Duke_Mwancha

Aug 20, 2015

End Statelessness in Kenya to promote Progress

Recent news on issues of citizenship, statelessness and marginalization have featured Nubian, Makonde, Shona, Somali and Arab communities in Kenya. These are groups with historical or ethnic ties to other countries who have either been rendered stateless or are in danger of becoming stateless.

International treaties proclaim citizenship as a basic right, though we have 10 million stateless people globally. The fact that they are not recognized by any state as citizens exposes them to many challenges ranging from denial of basic rights and access to employment, housing, education, and healthcare.

It is possible that they are also not able to own property, open bank accounts, get married legally or register their children after birth. Some could even face detention because they cannot prove who they are.

The exact number of stateless people in Kenya is not known and was unfortunately not recorded in the last census. It is rather roughly estimated that there are 100,000 of them from Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Somalia and Asia.

These have either not been able to access legal documentation or are finding it difficult to proof their Kenyan nationality in vetting processes. Most of them were brought in Kenya as workers during the colonial era but did not return home after independence and were never granted citizenship by Kenya.

The Nubian Community originally from Sudan with a current population of about 100,000 people has been in Kenya since 1900. Some of them have consistently claimed to experience bottlenecks in registration or obtaining national identification documents. The Shona from Zimbabwe face the same dilemma.

Interestingly, we have some Kenyan citizens who might be at risk of being rendered stateless. Kenyan Somalis who in the past registered themselves as refugees from Somalia despite having Kenyan citizenship belong to this category.

The rights of stateless people in Kenya may not have been fully provided in the past legal regimes but with the new constitution promulgated in 2010, there shouldn’t be any impediment for their enjoyment of these rights.

Considering that some of these communities have lived in Kenya for over sixty years, it is their constitutional right that they be registered as Kenyan citizens despite their origins. Article 15 of the Citizens and Immigration Act, 2011 indicates that, a stateless person who has lived in Kenya for a continuous period since 12th December, 1963, shall be deemed to have been lawfully resident and may apply to be registered as a citizen. It further outlines citizenship rights for descendants of stateless people.

Though this law limits the number of years within which applications for citizenship are to be made (five years from the commencement of the Act), it does give a legal room for stateless people to claim citizenship. In fact, its sections are largely complementary to the 1954 UN Convention relating to the status of statelessness and the 1961 Convention on the reduction of Statelessness.

The challenge however remains the efficiency in its implementation and the public perception on how it is administered. Members from the stateless communities have continually shown concern over the government’s use of both ethnicity and territory to establish claims for belonging in Kenya. Their claims are still contested and as a result, their registration has not ceased to be slow.

The government must however be praised for its recent move to naturalize some 3000 members from the ethnic Pemba and Makonde communities in Kwale County. These two trace their origins to Zanzibar and Mozambique respectively. Their naturalization followed a presidential directive after the Kwale County Assembly petitioned President Uhuru Kenyatta to grant them citizenship.

However, handling the challenge of statelessness efficiently will require the exact number of stateless people in Kenya to be established. It will even be more efficient if it can be administered through a comprehensive strategy and a detailed policy framework with clear registration procedures and timelines.

This task can be taken up by a dedicated government led task force or committee which will also undertake public awareness campaigns on the procedures and timelines for registration of affected people.

Strategic communication on all matters pertaining the Citizenship and Immigration Act, 2011 will shift public perception and guarantee non-discriminatory procedures for registration of stateless persons.

With its precision in mandate and inclusiveness of all stakeholders, the task force will perhaps be more equipped to handle claims that go beyond the Kenyan boarders than a departmental unit within government would do.

UNHCR which is global leader for promoting identification, protection, prevention and reduction of statelessness will certainly play a critical role in the task force.

The ultimate goal for this should be to end statelessness in Kenya not only to ease life for affected communities but also to promote development. This is in the interest of Kenya in its journey towards realizing Vision 2030.

Twitter: @Duke_Mwancha

Jul 11, 2015

Local Integration of Somali refugees, a workable option that Kenya refuses to consider

There are over a half a million refugees in Kenya, trapped in protracted refugee situations with few opportunities for self-reliance. In Dadaab refugee camp, some Somali refugees have stayed for as long as 25 years. Their prolonged stay is not in any way illegal but it should be a concern to all that ought to find durable solutions for them.

A tripartite agreement signed in 2013 by UNHCR and the governments of Kenya and Somalia set out a framework for voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees willing to return home. Voluntary repatriation being one of the durable solutions for refugee situations, it is expected that a few Somalis if not all, will voluntarily return home.

The other two durable options acceptable internationally are resettlement to third countries and local integration.

Resettlement depends on quotas decided upon by donor countries. It is often not a reliable solution for majority because slots are reserved for vulnerable cases particularly refugees with more serious protection concerns.
Local integration on the other hand allows refugees to attain a wider range of rights including acquisition of citizenship in their country of asylum. It is also a social and cultural process of adaptation and acceptance that can enable refugees to contribute to the social and economic life of their asylum country.

Somali refugees in Dadaab share cultural similarities with local Kenyans who are also Somalis. The two have the same origins and have peacefully lived together for over 20 years. The mare fact that they speak the same language with locals and have even intermarried, should be inspiring enough to have them locally integrated, shall they choose not to return home.

The principle of local integration is firmly established in international refugee law. The 1951 UN Refugee Convention acknowledges the role of local integration and the importance of citizenship in achieving durable solutions for refugees.

According to article 34 of the Convention, “the contracting states shall as far as possible facilitate the assimilation and naturalization of refugees. They shall in particular make every effort to expedite naturalization proceedings.”

Kenya is party to the 1951 UN Convention relating to the status of refugees, the 1967 Protocol and the 1969 Organization of African Union Convention governing specific aspects of refugee problems in Africa. In fact, article 2 (6) of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya states that any international convention or treaty will become a part of the Kenyan law. The provisions within these conventions are therefore part of the national law.

It is therefore in Kenya’s best interest under its international obligation, to establish what it can contribute towards finding durable solutions for these refugees. Currently, the Refugees Act, 2006 through an encampment policy does not allow refugees to live outside designated areas. It demands that all refugees should stay in camps at all times unless traveling to seek education or medical treatment.

The sudden enforcement of the refugee encampment policy in 2014 which was strengthened by the controversial amendment to the security act has had an unpleasant impact on refugees who had for many years established themselves in urban areas. The enforcement prompted ‘Usalama’ watch and cracking down of refugees in their urban settlements. 

This was however largely criticized by the civil society as a violation of human rights.

Considering this and other concerns, there should be a discussion on what workable solution for Kenya’s refugee situation that has not been tried yet.

If Somali refugees who have stayed in Kenya for over fifteen years, and are not willing to return home were to be locally integrated, Kenya would possibly benefit in a number of ways:

De-congestion of Dadaab refugee camp will be the immediate benefit. This will create space for environmental rehabilitation in severely degraded sites within and around the camp. It will also make it easy for authorities to manage camps and monitor activities across the Kenya Somalia boarder which is claimed to be porous.

Locally integrated refugees will become Kenyan citizens and will begin contributing to Kenya’s economy. They may not necessarily be allocated land but they will constitute a new labor force with skills that can be utilized to benefit villages in which they shall settle.

With carefully planned integration, Kenya may generally benefit from long term donor supported infrastructural development. In other words, a huge chunk of aid currently directed to refugee camps will be made available in Kenyan villages for development.

It will also have an additional appeal for Kenya as a human rights defender. Freedom of movement and the right to work are two fundamental human rights that are often denied to refugees confined in camps.

With political will, the process of local integration can be smooth. African countries including Angola, Guinea, Gabon, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia have within the last four decades locally integrated refugees successfully.

In 1981, Tanzania granted citizenship to approximately 25,000 Rwandese refugees. In 2003, it declared settlement and free movement for approximately 3,000 Somali refugees with the possibility of local integration. More recently in 2014, over 162,000 Burundi refugees were all granted citizenship.

Kenya has a good opportunity to formulate a new legal framework within which the process of local integration of refugees can be anchored. Perhaps the new proposed amendment bill to the Refugee Act, 2006 that has been under review since 2011 can be ridden upon.

Jan 25, 2015

Shikley ML - Its what she is!

Young smart she be, unassuming demure mellow she,
Amazing smile she’s got, makes everything seem alright,
From the moon life she views, bright and slow comes as she,
Collected calmly as cool, abiding in her is alright.

How I wish I could let mama know, what a beloved she bore,
Even though I'm a little slow, to her damsel I bow.
For honesty she exudes, down to her hips,
You see what you hear, right from her lips.
A pretty Sheeky she, 'hang in there' she ought,
Listen to witty she, a mare hot she is not,
A year you know some, you don’t see what they be,
A week you know Shee, a sweet rock and roller she be.