President Uhuru Kenyatta has rejected a bill that gave some 500,000 refugees living in camps the right to work and use land for business and farming, saying there was no public participation on the proposed law.
The Refugees Bill was in line with the shift to offer longer-term help for refugees to become more self-sufficient after years of reliance on donors who have found it increasingly difficult to provide for them.
Legally, all refugees in Kenya must live in camps and cannot work, even though some arrived three decades ago.
President Kenyatta said even though the bill relates to an important aspect of management of refugees in the country, there was no public participation in its formulation in accordance with Article 118 of the constitution.
“In view of the foregoing, I recommend that the said Bill should be referred back to Parliament to allow for public input in accordance with the Constitution,” President Kenyatta said. Refugees or asylum seekers with professional qualifications such as doctors, engineers and architects were to be entitled to work permits upon application in accordance with the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act 2011.
The proposed law allows a person who has been granted refugee status and is in possession of valid identity card to engage in gainful or wage-earning employment.
It provided for refugees residing in designated camps to have free access to land for farming but without the right to sell, lease or alienate the land.
Former Ndhiwa MP Agostinho Neto was behind the bill, which Parliament passed in June.
Lawmakers will now look at the bill once again to address the reasons cited for rejection before sending it back to the President.
There have been tensions between poor locals living around the Dadaab and Kakuma camps, who often suffer drought and hunger, and the refugees who receive free food, healthcare and education.