December 21, 2012 / 3:25 PM / in 5 years

Amnesty says Kenya sending refugees to camps unlawful

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya’s order for all urban asylum seekers and refugees to report to two rural camps is in breach of international law, human rights group Amnesty International said on Friday.

Kenya houses over 630,000 refugees, with more than half a million of those from war-torn Somalia, which shares a porous border with east Africa’s biggest economy.

But a series of bombings, shootings and hand-grenade attacks blamed on Somali militants prompted Kenya on Tuesday to stop registering asylum seekers and refugees in urban areas.

“The government cannot simply scapegoat refugees and asylum-seekers en masse for security incidents,” said Kathryn Achilles, Amnesty International’s East Africa expert.

The government’s decision to place refugees and asylum seekers in camps is discriminatory and an unlawful restriction on freedom of movement, Amnesty said.

“This restriction on freedom of movement is likely to lead to other serious human rights abuses in already overcrowded, insecure refugee camps,” Achilles added.

Under the new directive, Somali refugees are required to be housed at Dadaab, which already hosts four times the population it was built for, while all other refugees must reside at Kakuma, a camp located near Kenya’s frontier with South Sudan.

A Kenyan government official said the directive would affect more than 100,000 refugees of various nationalities living in urban areas.

The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, urged Kenya on Thursday to uphold the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.

“We caution against stigmatization of refugees and asylum-seekers,” the agency said in a statement.

Reporting By Drazen Jorgic; Editing by James Macharia and Alison Williams

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