40,000 listed as refugees sue State in identity row

Dadaab, Kenya - August 14, 2011: Somalian children refugees fetch water at the new Ifo-extension in Dadaab on August 14, 2011. [File]

For a plate of food, Hamdi Mhamed Muhumed, 22, unwittingly surrendered his nationality.

Faced by the possibility of starving or dying of thirst, his mother chose to walk to the Dadaab Refugee Camp and register him as a refugee. Her mission was simple: to keep him alive. 

Little did she know that the moment his name was entered into the refugees’ register by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), his birth right as a Kenyan became debatable.

Today, Mhamed is still paying the price. Simple things like opening a bank account, having access to business premises, health services, education or formal employment are an illusion. He does not have a national identity card.

Besides, he no longer gets the rations meant for refugees, as UNHCR disowned him after the State vetted him alongside 19,000 others in 2016 and ascertained that they were Kenyans.

Mhamed and three others have now sued the State, on behalf of 40,000 others, seeking to be identified as Kenyans.

“Double registration is a situation where genuine Kenyans in areas close to refugee camps such as Dadaab were registered as refugees. They are in the refugee database so as to have access to the necessities available to refugees such as medical services and food, especially during the drought periods in their areas,” reads the case file before the High Court.

Mhamed, Sahal Abdi Amin, Deka Muktar Gure and Haki Na Sheria Initiative say since they were vetted five years ago and it was ascertained that they are Kenyans, they are to get identification cards.

Court documents filed on their behalf by lawyer Yussuf Bashir say 14,762 people who are refugees in their own country are from Garissa and 4,952 are from Wajir.

The lawyer says 40,000 Kenyans are double registered and cannot get national ID cards.

“This happened majorly during the periods of drought and hunger when such parents had no means to cater for their large families and unaware of the future repercussions on such children, they, with the best intention to provide for the children, rushed them to the refugee camps,” Bashir argues in the case filed yesterday.

“The respondents have failed and continue to fail to fulfil their obligation in ensuring that all Kenyans, specifically from the marginalised communities in Garissa and Wajir counties, have access to and enjoy socio-economic rights.”

The lawyer says majority of those on the list were registered as children who had no control of what was happening.

According to him, the government vetted the group several times, including in 2019, but the exercise always ends without ID cards.

Those sued are the Attorney General, Interior Cabinet Secretary, Director of National Registration Bureau, Commissioner of Refugees and UNHCR. Mhamed says although he does not remember when his name ended up on the list of refugees, he would have objected to it if he knew the future repercussions.

“I am a bona fide Kenyan born to Kenyan parents and my life is on hold because of lack of the nationality document,” he says.

He now fears that when Dadaab camp is closed, he will be taken to Somalia despite his birthplace and parents being in Kenya.