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Kenya's Camp Confinement Policy

In Kenya, refugees are required by an unwritten executive policy, which started in 1991, to reside in Dadaab camp or in Kakuma camp. The camps have been in place for more than eleven years.225 The minister responsible for internal security has been granted the power to enact a policy for "requiring aliens to reside and remain within certain places or districts."226 However, under law such a policy may only be enacted "when a state of war exists... or when it appears that an occasion of imminent danger or great emergency has arisen."227 Neither the Minister nor parliament has ever promulgated laws or regulations to enact the encampment policy. Nevertheless, a camp confinement policy exists and is enforced on a daily basis.

While administrative exceptions to the camp confinement policy appear to exist, they-like the confinement policy itself-are not enacted into law or regulation. According to UNHCR, the exceptions have been developed through consultations with Kenya's Ministry of Home Affairs.228 Apparently, the following categories of refugees may fit within one of these administrative exceptions to camp confinement:

    · refugees undergoing resettlement interviews or processing;

    · refugees who require specialized medical or psychological care not available in camps;

    · refugees who are pursuing educational opportunities not available in camps; and

    · refugees with serious security problems in camps.

However, refugees are completely unaware of these exceptions. In fact, even staff members of large international NGOs working in Kakuma camp informed Human Rights Watch that they were not aware of any exceptions to the camp confinement policy.229 There are also no regularized procedures before impartial decision makers in which individuals may apply to be considered for one of the exceptions, and the camp authorities, who do occasionally grant travel permission, exercise completely unfettered discretion in deciding who among the refugees will be allowed to leave the camps.

Finally, the Kenyan police are not informed of any accepted exceptions to the camp confinement policy.230 As a result, police in Kenya regularly enforce the policy without exceptions. In fact, the policy is used as a rationale for police harassment even if a refugee has been granted permission to leave the camp. As a senior member of an NGO working in Kakuma camp explained, "There is a major problem with the police along the way from Kakuma to Nairobi. They subject people to harassment and physical violence even when they have travel permits."231 Refugees are often ordered by police to return to camps without any inquiry into whether a particular refugee fits within one of the exceptions to the confinement policy. One refugee who had faced serious security problems in a camp was arrested by an officer who angrily shouted at him, "you are supposed to be in the camp - so what are you doing here? Go to the camp!"232

Uganda's Camp Confinement Policy

In Uganda, refugees are required to live in camps that have been in place since the late 1980s, hosting mostly Sudanese refugees.233

Uganda's laws provide for its camp confinement policy in more detail than Kenya's. Uganda's 1960 Control of Aliens Act (CARA) provides for the confinement of refugees in settlements. The Minister in charge is enabled to appoint a Director of Refugees, who in turn may designate particular places in Uganda as refugee settlements and appoint "settlement commandants."234 CARA also provides that the Minister may "by order in writing" direct refugees or classes of refugees to reside in a refugee settlement or in "such other place in Uganda as may be specified in the order."235 A refugee who violates such an order "shall be guilty of an offence."236 It prohibits refugees from leaving or attempting to leave settlements without the permission of the settlement commandant and makes it an offence for any person to harbor a refugee outside of the settlements.237 CARA does not provide for any exceptions to the requirement that refugees reside in settlements.

As in Kenya, the exceptions to the camp confinement policy in Uganda are not enacted into law and are implemented by an ad hoc administrative policy. In an interview with the Office of the Prime Minister, the exceptions to Uganda's camp confinement policy were described as follows:

There are some [refugees] with security reasons for not being in the camp, and there are others who don't integrate easily into camps like the particularly vulnerable, professionals, those who are chronically sick. There are others who have security problems in the camps but in the city people have security problems too. We use our administrative powers to allow people to stay [in Kampala].238

The Directorate of Refugees, within the Office of the Prime Minister, sets policy for the camps, and it works in concert with UNHCR. However, the day-to-day business in the camps and the direct power over who may leave the settlements rests at the unfettered discretion of the camp commandant. Many refugees fear the camp commandants, who often exercise their authority in an arbitrary fashion.239 In addition, many refugees in Uganda do not know that there are exceptions to the camp confinement policy.

225 See Arthur C. Helton, The Price of Indifference, 2002 at 156 (noting that the camps for Somali refugees in Kenya "were established in the early 1990s: Ifo in September 1991, Dagahaley in March 1992 and Hagadera in June 1992."); Lutheran World Federation, "Kakuma Refugee Camp," 2002, available at: (explaining that "LWF/DWS was invited by UNHCR in mid-1992 to help establish a refugee camp at Kakuma (north west Kenya) in response to an influx of an estimated 30,000 Sudanese refugees fleeing fighting in Southern Sudan and entering Northern Kenya through the border town of Lokichoggio.").

226 See Aliens Restriction Act, Article 3, May 1973.

227 See Aliens Restriction Act, Article 3, May 1973.

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

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

230 Human Rights Watch interviews with Kenyan police officers, Nairobi, Kenya, April 18, 2002.

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

232 Human Rights Watch interview with refugee, Nairobi, Kenya, April 4, 2002.

233 See Zachary Lomo, Angela Naggaga, Lucy Hovil, "The Phenomenon of Forced Migration in Uganda: an Overview of Policy and Practice in an Historical Context," Refugee Law Project Working Paper No. 1, June 2001 at 5 (recalling that "[s]ince 1988 approximately 150,000 Sudanese refugees have been resident in the West Nile districts" of Uganda).

234 See CARA, Article 5(b).

235 See CARA, Article 8(1).

236 See CARA, Article 8(5).

237 See CARA, Section 17(3), Section 13.

238 Human Rights Watch interview with Ugandan government official, Office of the Prime Minister, Kampala, Uganda, April 13, 2002.

239 Camp commandants are sometimes accused of abusive behavior as well. At Kyangwali settlement, a refugee alleged that the camp commandant raped a Congolese refugee woman. UNHCR was investigating, but later refugees reported that the camp commandant was freed by the police and threw himself a party to celebrate. Human Rights Watch interview with NGO, Kampala, Uganda, April 9, 2002. See also Refugee Law Project, Refugees in Arua District: A Human Security Analysis, September 2001 at 12-14 (noting that "[refugees] saw the authorities as not only unfair, but as a direct threat to themselves.").

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