The murder on April 17 of two Rwandan refugee children in Nairobi, Kenya, shows the need for the Kenyan government to provide effective protection to refugees at risk in Nairobi, said Human Rights Watch today.

The two children, aged nine and ten, were murdered during the night at a so-called "secure residence" in Nairobi where their throats were slit by an assailant. Their forty-three year old mother, who is a close relative of the former president of Rwanda, Juvenal Habyarimana, was also severely injured with multiple stab wounds.

"This murder is a tragic reminder of the need to provide life-saving protection to refugees in Nairobi," said Rachael Reilly, refugee policy director of Human Rights Watch.

The residential facility in the Kilimani neighborhood of Nairobi was set up by the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to shelter refugees whose lives are in danger. Some 190 refugees are currently living there. The Rwandan refugee family had been placed in the facility because of the inter-ethnic nature of the family - the mother of the slain children is Hutu and their father is Tutsi, and because of their relationship to Habyarimana. The death of President Habyarimana in April 1994 in a mysterious plane crash provided the pretext for Hutu extremists to launch a campaign of genocide against the minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda in which more than half a million people were killed.

The woman and her two children fled Rwanda in 2000 because their lives were under threat. Three other children from her first marriage had already been murdered in Rwanda. She first fled to Uganda, where her security problems were so acute that she came to Nairobi in May 2001.

Identified as being in urgent need of resettlement to a third country because her life was in danger in Kenya, the woman had waited eleven months for her resettlement application to be processed and only received medical screening for resettlement to Australia a few days ago. The resettlement process in Nairobi is notoriously slow - particularly after a corruption scandal caused UNHCR to replace most of its resettlement staff in March 2001.

"This case highlights the current failure of UNHCR in Nairobi to provide speedy resettlement for refugees whose lives are at risk. Refugees are forced to wait unacceptable periods of time for resettlement to third countries - in this case, with tragic consequences," said Reilly.

The grave security problems faced by this Rwandan family are typical for many of the refugees living in Nairobi and Kampala, said Reilly. Human Rights Watch is currently investigating human rights abuses against asylum seekers and refugees in both cities. One refugee told Human Rights Watch "I don't feel safe there [in the UNHCR facility]... I don't feel safe anywhere in Nairobi."