Refugees in Kenya welcome new law allowing them to integrate into economy, society

Refugees in Kenya welcome new law allowing them to integrate into economy, society

  • The law comes as Kenya plans to close two of the region's largest refugee camps, which are home to more than 400,000 people.
  • Willie Rwari, a refugee from Burundi, has been in Kenya for the last seven years without a regular source of income.
  • He holds a diploma in mechanical training from Burundi and an additional one from Kenya.

In Kenya, refugees and their supporters have welcomed a new law that gives the country's half a million refugees better access to education and work.

The law comes as Kenya plans to close two of the region's largest refugee camps, which are home to more than 400,000 people.

Willie Rwari, a refugee from Burundi, has been in Kenya for the last seven years without a regular source of income. He holds a diploma in mechanical training from Burundi and an additional one from Kenya. Yet, he has been unable to find steady employment in the country’s capital, Nairobi.

Refugees like him have to make do with what they get, he said.

Rwari said they take up whichever jobs they get, even construction site jobs, because they don’t have the required papers to get jobs they are qualified for. Rwari added that they can’t get the certificate of good conduct papers, the national hospital insurance, the Kenya revenue authority pins, the national social security fund papers. And to get any job here, you must have that.

Rwari’s hopes of getting a decent job now lie with the speedy implementation of the new Refugees Bill that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta recently signed into law.

The law paves the way for refugees to integrate into the Kenyan economy and social life.

Victor Odero of the International Rescue Committee said the new law is a bright spot in the quest for empowering refugees.

“There was no obligation before, certainly not in law, for the state to facilitate the issuance of legal documentation through which then refugees would be able to get economic and social development — basically become self-reliant.” Odero said.

That ability for refugees to participate in Kenyan society has also been welcomed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. The agency’s spokesperson in Kenya, Eujin Byun, said this will make the refugees feel valued and dignified in their new homes.

“Integration for refugees is critical," Byun said. "One because refugees don’t want to be the other, and they want to continue their lives while seeking asylum in the host country until they can return to their country safely.”

The new law comes ahead of the planned closure next year of Kenya’s two largest refugee camps, which together house more than 400,000 people, most from Somalia or South Sudan.

Odero says the law will help make the process of clearing the camps easier.

“Refugee camps are simply unsustainable — people agree on that across the board," Odero said. "So, the question has been, ‘Where, or can we have a legal framework that gives sufficient anchorage to durable solutions?' And what we can see from this legislation is that it moves things forward. It is actually progressive.”

The close to half a million refugees in Kenya, just like Rwari, want the law to take effect soon so they can get the chance to earn a decent living outside of the camps.