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Kenya’s government requires citizens over the age of eighteen to register with the National Registration Bureau and obtain a national ID. Failure to obtain one is not only illegal, but citizens who are denied IDs are reduced to second class status or de facto statelessness. For the Nubian, Kenyan Somali, and coastal Arab minorities who are unable to prove they are citizens by birth, the standard is higher and far more arbitrary in practice. Recent initiatives by the Nubian community have had some positive impact on their situation.
Current Humanitarian Situation
Under Kenyan law, refugees cannot naturalize and children of unknown origin who might otherwise be stateless, including some orphans and street children, are not automatically granted citizenship. Security concerns, as well as discrimination against groups with historical or ethnic ties to other countries, force minorities to endure arbitrary, biased scrutiny and unnecessary long delays in order to obtain citizenship.
Although the Nubian minority has resided in Kenya for over a century and now numbers close to 100,000, they are not one of the 42 officially recognized ethnic groups. Nubian applications are routinely scrutinized by a “vetting committee”, comprised of security and immigration officials, as well as community elders. The committee presumes applicants are non-citizens until proven otherwise. The coastal Arabs are also subject to vetting committees, and they reported an increased level of discrimination against them following September 11th. Somalis, particularly members of the Galjeel community, a sub-clan of about 3,000, report being stripped of their citizenship and bribed in order to obtain an ID.
Fortunately there have been some recent signs of progress. National institutions are taking steps to streamline the registration process, construing national identification as a right rather than a privilege. In 2007, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission published a report on national ID card issuance, with recommendations for legal and administrative change. Following the 2007 election, officials must now consider new legislation to enhance citizenship rights of minority groups, women, children, and refugees.
In December 2012, the Government of Kenya announced a directive that would force all refugees living in cities to relocate to camps, and shut down all registration and service provision to refugees and asylum-seekers in cities. This effectively empowered Kenyan security services to unleash a wave of abuse against refugees. That Kenya has not yet gone ahead with a forced relocation plan has led some to believe that the worst has been averted. Yet the directive caused severe harm even without being implemented. Many refugees felt forced to leave Nairobi following severe harassment. The directive has also been a set-back to Kenya’s notable advances in enabling urban refugees to support themselves, and it has put the UN Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) global urban refugee policy at risk.