‘When Rescuers become Refoulers: Closing Kenya’s Refugee Camps amid Terrorism Threats’ and leaving vulnerable groups out in the cold

Author Charles A Khamala

ISSN: 2521-2613
Affiliations: PhD (Université de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour) (mention trés honourable), LLM (London), LLB (Hons) (Nairobi), PGDip (KSL). Advocate of the High Court of Kenya and Senior Lecturer, Africa Nazarene University Law School
Source: Africa Nazarene University Law Journal, 2020, Volume 8, Issue 1, p. 1 – 29


Kenya’s counter-terrorism measures, following entry into Somalia, relocated refugees to designated camps. However, by violating a refugee’s freedom of movement, mass relocation contravenes the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). Regional jurisprudence informed the Kenyan High Court’s Kituo cha Sheria v Attorney General decision holding that mass refugee relocation is indeed refoulement. It necessarily discriminates, punishes disproportionately, and may amount to a ‘failure to protect’ refugees against torture, a crime against humanity. However, the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (Refugees Convention) merely prohibits hosts from returning escapees to countries where they are targeted for persecution. Conversely, refugees who are either reasonably regarded as threatening national security or reasonably suspected of serious crimes are deemed to ‘waive’ their non-refoulement right. Nonetheless, the court’s legal moralism insisted that states should prove ‘waiver’ and never torture refugees. Invoking an ‘individual criminality’ principle required proof of a refugee’s dangerousness. Suspects can furthermore not be condemned unheard. Therefore, establishing whether ‘mass waiver’ is possible, is problematic. Are blanket relocation directives justifiable simply because proving ‘reasonable belief’ of refugees committing terror acts or serious crimes are difficult? Although Samow Mumin Mohamed v Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Interior Security and Co-Ordination condoned mass refugee relocation Refugee Consortium of Kenya v Attorney did not. Curiously, to clarify the ambiguity Kenya National Commission on Human Rights v Attorney Genera elevated the required standard of proof for ‘waiver’ under the Refugees Convention to one of ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’ Previously, in Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD) v Republic of Kenya legislative caps on refugee numbers were rejected. Subsequently, a new Refugee Bill (2019) proposes to legalise confining refugees to designated camps. This article applies common-law principles of the duty on rescuers to evaluate whether mass refugee relocation refoules.