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Host Governments

Host governments are primarily responsible to provide refugees with adequate assistance and the means of survival. However, in developing countries such as Kenya203 and Uganda,204 governments may be unable to meet the needs of large numbers of refugees and will require the help of the international community, including UNHCR. That help has not always been forthcoming for refugees in East Africa. In 2002, UNHCR required U.S.$27,000,000 to run its programs in Kenya and by mid-year the agency had only received $13,000,000.205 In Uganda, UNHCR required $16,000,000 to run its programs and the agency had only received $10,000,000 by mid-2002.206

Given these funding shortfalls, the international community is partially responsible for the lack of adequate food and other assistance for refugees described above. For example, food distributions in the camps in Kenya have fallen far below UNHCR/WFP nutritional standards,207 and urgent pleas for contributions have not yet been answered.208

Host governments such as Kenya and Uganda are also responsible for ensuring security in refugee camps and for providing avenues of redress to victims of violence. Both governments bear responsibility for locating refugee camps near borders, thereby allowing rebel groups and security agents to infiltrate and de-stabilize camp security. By locating camps where they have, Kenya and Uganda have contravened their obligations under the OAU Refugee Convention.209

Host governments are also required to take "all necessary measures to ensure that the civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps... is maintained,"210 and to investigate crimes in refugee camps and provide access to courts for redress.211 Kenya has made some improvements in these areas, by increasing the presence of trained police and by prosecuting some criminals; however, the rate of conviction for the crime of rape still remains very low.212 And while Uganda does station UPDF officers to oversee security in the refugee camp districts, the day-to-day security is most often provided by so-called local defense units, which are not as well trained, and often deployed in low numbers.213


Although UNHCR's mandate is to protect refugees and to seek durable solutions to refugee situations, it has increasingly become involved in the delivery of humanitarian assistance. In fact, UNHCR argues that it is often through the provision of assistance that it has access to and is best able to protect refugees.214 Moreover, UNHCR's statute requires it to facilitate the coordination of relief efforts for refugees.215 As a result, UNHCR has overarching responsibility for the assistance programs in camps, which are often run by NGOs contracted as implementing partners to the agency. UNHCR recognizes that it "is responsible for ensuring that the... immediate material needs of the refugees are met in an effective and appropriate manner."216 Unfortunately, given the inadequate food relief distributed to refugees in Kenya and Uganda, UNHCR was not meeting this responsibility. Again, the failures were not only the agency's responsibility. WFP, responsible for delivering food supplies, reported that in Uganda it "will be running out of... food commodities between May and October 2002, which will adversely affect the refugees."217 As mentioned above, this is largely due to lack of international funding for assistance programs.

UNHCR is charged by its own guidelines and by numerous ExCom conclusions to develop and implement "practical measures"218 to "provide effective physical protection to asylum-seekers and refugees."219 And, for example, the agency has promulgated detailed guidelines on preventing sexual violence against refugee women in camps.220 UNHCR has taken some appropriate measures in Kenya, for example, by creating the "protection area" in Kakuma camp and by instituting the firewood program in both Kakuma and Dadaab. However, both of these innovations are limited in their effectiveness. Located near a police post and surrounded by barbed wire, the "protection area," does provide some protection. But at the same time, refugees living there are suffering from a severe deprivation of freedom of movement, and children are being denied access to education. Finally, addressing the protection concerns of 100,000 individual refugees is extraordinarily difficult when UNHCR has only one protection officer working in the camp, which was the case in Kakuma until July 2002.221

While the Ugandan government has a primary responsibility to bring to an end attacks on refugee camps in Uganda, UNHCR also has a responsibility to deal with the consequences of such attacks. In an effort to fulfill this responsibility, UNHCR devoted itself in mid-August 2002 to transferring more than 20,000 refugees who had fled the attacks to safer camps in Kiryondongo and Kyangwali.222

When host governments such as Kenya or Uganda insist on confining refugees to camps, UNHCR sometimes goes along with the policies because they are more convenient or cost-effective; and at other times because the agency believes it will put the very principle of asylum at risk if it opposes camp confinement. UNHCR is sometimes stuck between the rock of unpleasant camp confinement policies and the hard place of governments refusing to host any refugees at all if camps are not used. However, because UNHCR is mandated to provide protection to all refugees (regardless of where they are living), the agency must take notice when confinement to refugee camps constitutes a protection problem. One senior staff member of an NGO said,

The location of camps is very poor, and if people had better legal rights, they could integrate better. However, there is such a problem of donor fatigue. The camps should not be located so far away from major trading centers.... The refugees are becoming refugees from UNHCR since they are not being attended to appropriately. Some of these people have lived in camps for more than ten years.223

Since UNHCR runs the refugee camps and settlements in Kenya and Uganda, the agency should work with the governments concerned to put standard procedures in place so that refugees may apply for permission to leave camps on any of several clearly established grounds. In addition, when camps are not safe and where conditions are life threatening, and when governments consider urban refugees to be impermissibly present in the city, the agency's protection mandate requires it to push Kenya and Uganda to acknowledge that "freedom of movement is the rule under international law and restrictions should be the exception."224

203 The size of the refugee population in Kenya as compared with the per capita GDP of the country indicates that Kenya bears the "tenth worst burden" of refugees in the world. See UNHCR, Global Report 2001, at 31.

204 The size of the refugee population in Uganda as compared with the per capita GDP of the country indicates that Uganda bears the "ninth worst burden" of refugees in the world. See UNHCR, Global Report 2001, at 31.

205 See UNHCR Mid-Year Progress Report, 2002.

206 See UNHCR Mid-Year Progress Report, 2002.

207 See WFP/UNHCR, Guidelines for Estimating Food and Nutritional Needs in Emergencies, 1997. See also above note 387.

208 See WFP, Updates on Selected Relief Operations, "Kenya Chapter," 2002 (noting that "unless urgent food pledges are received soon, WFP will be obliged to reduce the ration scale to 1,119 kcal per person per day in June 2002).

209 Kenya and Uganda are required to, as far as possible, "settle refugees at a reasonable distance from the frontier of their country of origin." OAU Refugee Convention, Article 2(6).

210 See ExCom General Conclusion on International Protection No. 77, 1995, para. q.

211 See "Personal Security of Refugees," ExCom Conclusion No. 72, 1993.

212 Human Rights Watch interview with UNHCR officials, Nairobi, Kenya, April 18, 2002.

213 See e.g. Refugee Law Project, Refugees and the Security Situation in Adjumani District, June 2001, p. 8.

214 See Executive Committee of the High Commissioner's Programme Forty Fifth Session Note on International Protection A/AC.96/830, September 7, 1994, paragraphs 14-18.

215 See Statute of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, General Assembly Resolution 428(V), December 14, 1950.

216 UNHCR, Handbook for Emergencies, January 1, 2000, p. 4.

217 WFP, Updates on Selected Relief Operations, "Uganda Chapter," 2002.

218 See "Personal Security of Refugees," ExCom Conclusion No. 72, 1993, at para f.

219 Ibid. at para d.

220 See, e.g., UNHCR Guidelines on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence Against Refugees, 1995.

221 Human Rights Watch correspondence with international NGO, July 26, 2002. Another international NGO staff member explained that there had also not been a Senior Protection Officer in place in Kakuma during 2000 and 2001. Human Rights Watch interview with international NGO staff member, Nairobi, Kampala, April 24, 2002.

222 See "Final Move to Start Soon for Displaced Refugees in Uganda," UNHCR News Story, August 16, 2002.

223 Human Rights Watch interview with international NGO staff member, Nairobi, Kenya, April 24, 2002.

224 See UNHCR, Policy on Refugees in Urban Areas, December 12, 1997, para. 3.

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