President Uhuru Kenyatta holds the key to permitting refugees rights to attain Kenyan citizenship, access employment, land and education if he assents to a new Bill passed by MPs before going on recess.
Parliament passed the Refugee Bill, 2016 through its third and final stage and the proposed law now awaits the President’s signature.
Refugees or asylum seekers with professional qualifications such as doctors, engineers and architects will be entitled to work permits upon application in accordance with the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act 2011.
Those holding refugee status in Kenya and become eligible to apply for citizenship may do so on his or her own behalf and that of his or her spouse and any dependent children if the Bill becomes law.
“A person with refugee status and who acquires Kenya citizenship shall cease to be a refugee,” the Bill states.
The new law allows a person who has been granted refugee status and is in a possession of valid identity card to engage in gainful or wage-earning employment.
“Every refugee child and every refugee adult who desires to participate in education shall be entitled to primary, secondary education and adult education in accordance with the Basic Education Act,” section 36 of the Bill says.
If Mr Kenyatta signs the Bill into law, refugees residing in designated camps shall have free access to use the land for purposes of farming except that they shall not have the right to sell, lease or alienate the land that has been allocated to them for use.
The Bill, privately sponsored by Ndhiwa MP Agostinho Neto, seeks to fully domesticate international obligations that ensure recognition and protection of refugees and asylum seekers.
If enacted into law, the Bill will repeal the Refugees Act to establish a legal framework that reflects Kenya’s international obligations.
It seeks to give effect to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees and the OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa.
The statute will compel the government to co-operate with other States, the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees, the African Union and other international and non-governmental organisation with a view to protecting and assisting refugees.