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Kenya, Uganda: Urban Refugees Abused    (Franšais)
(Nairobi, November 21, 2002) Tens of thousands of refugees in the capitals of Kenya and Uganda are living in dire and dangerous conditions, and national governments are taking insufficient steps to address their plight, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

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Hidden in Plain View
Report, November 21, 2002

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"Urban refugees may be invisible to most people, but that doesn't mean they forfeit their rights. Kenya and Uganda have done a terrible job protecting these vulnerable people."

Alison Parker
Director of Refugee Policy (Acting)
Human Rights Watch


Human Rights Watch also criticized intergovernmental agencies for neglecting their responsibilities to protect and assist refugees in Nairobi, Kenya and Kampala, Uganda.

The 208-page report, "Hidden in Plain View," is based on 150 in-depth interviews with refugees from Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan and elsewhere. Refugees described being subjected to beatings, sexual violence, harassment, extortion, arbitrary arrests and detention. The perpetrators are criminals, persecutors trailing them from their countries of origin, and even the Kenyan police and Ugandan military.

The refugees have no option but to sleep on the streets or in unsafe shelters, leaving them vulnerable to violence and illness, according to the Human Rights Watch report. Since international relief efforts are minimal, food is scarce and medical treatment is difficult to obtain.

"Urban refugees may be invisible to most people, but that doesn't mean they forfeit their rights," said Alison Parker, a refugee expert at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report. "Kenya and Uganda have done a terrible job protecting these vulnerable people."

In Nairobi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is not adequately identifying or protecting women refugees and unaccompanied children. In addition, security agents from refugees' home countries (particularly Ethiopia) are following, harassing and beating refugees. Human Rights Watch also documented how UNHCR's refugee status determination process is plagued by delay.

But the Kenyan police perpetrate the most pervasive abuse, especially extortion and violence during arrests. Human Rights Watch urged the new government to be installed after the upcoming elections in Kenya to ensure refugees are protected from harm.

"Refugees come to Kenya hoping to find a place of safety," said Parker. "A new government in Kenya must offer protection, and prevent the police or others from preying upon refugees."

In Kampala, suspected security services of the rebel group, the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD), follow and threaten refugees who are also human rights activists. Ugandan authorities have detained refugees, and security agents from refugees' countries of origin have targeted some (especially refugees from Rwanda and the DRC) for ongoing harassment and physical attacks.

Human Rights Watch urged the government of Uganda to uphold its obligations to refugees by passing the new refugee bill, slated for consideration in 2003.

The governments of Kenya and Uganda have policies requiring refugees to live in camps, which makes it difficult to address the needs of refugees in the city. Meanwhile, the main agency charged with protecting refugees, UNHCR, is without the funds or the commitment to defend refugee rights and work against the camp policy.

"Refugees are being punished for their presence in Nairobi and Kampala, without regard for their rights to freedom of movement," said Parker. "They basically have nowhere to turn when they suffer abuse."

The Human Rights Watch report urges donor governments to help refugees living in the two capitals. A serious lack of funds almost forced UNHCR to close the only safe housing center for refugees in Nairobi earlier this month, and the agency has put on hold a proposed program to issue better identity documents to refugees.

"Donor governments should be ashamed of themselves," said Parker. "If they don't increase their contributions to refugee agencies working in Kenya and Uganda, the plight of these refugees is not going to improve."

Since many of the refugees interviewed for the report were unsafe anywhere in Kenya or Uganda, they were also in dire need of resettlement to other countries. Governments accepting refugees for resettlement need to increase their quotas and the speed of processing in order to save refugees' lives, Human Rights Watch urged.