Kenyan MP demands accountability for stateless youth

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In April, Coda Story’s Keren Weitzberg wrote about the biometric registration system in Kenya and the “double registered” ethnic Somali Kenyans left in limbo without ID cards. 

The country’s biometric system was intended to reduce incidences of “double registration”  — a problem that mainly affects ethnic Somalis with Kenyan citizenship who falsely registered as refugees in the 1990s in order to receive vital food aid. However, tens of thousands are still in limbo. 

Earlier this week, member of parliament Aden Duale denounced Fred Matiang’i, the nation’s interior cabinet secretary, demanding an explanation for why 20,000 Kenyans are still ineligible for identification cards, including 18,500 stateless youths.

Garissa County, which Duale represents, has some of the highest numbers of double registrants in Kenya and is home to one of the world’s largest refugee camps. Over the past six years, government task forces have been created to delist Kenyan citizens from the national refugee database, with questionable success.

Duale requested a report of the vetting process from the Kenyan Interior Ministry, which heads the biometric registration project, and a statement from the security committee of the National Assembly.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency — which, along with the government oversees the national database — is also waiting for guidance. “The report is currently with the government. We are also waiting for their feedback, and then we can move forward with corrections to the verification process,” said Eujin Byun, spokesperson for UNHCR Kenya.

In Kenya, the Ministry of Interior and UNHCR are in the process of merging their parallel registration systems in order to sync respective data on refugees and asylum seekers. But the refugee protection agency is ultimately without the power to expedite the feedback report they need to make assessments.

“UNHCR is a guest of the government and can only support the government in registering refugees; it’s ultimately a function of national authority,” Byun said.

Kenya’s ID card program has been criticized for further marginalizing already vulnerable populations, but double registrants are not the only people who encounter bureaucratic hurdles. Kenya’s elderly are affected too.

Earlier this week, Kenyan philanthropist Stanley Kamau called on the government to review registration criteria, to improve access to essential social services for older people.  

Kamau said that using ID cards — required for many aspects of daily life in Kenya, such as registering a SIM card and opening a bank account — as the only proof of age has excluded those without documentation from receiving state assistance, to which people aged 70 and over are entitled.

“We have so many elderly people who have no ID cards and should not be locked out on account of lack of it,” Kamau said.

Photo by Klein Ongaki and Rich Allela

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Rachel Sherman

Rachel is a reporting fellow with Coda Story and master’s student at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Food & Wine, Sojourners, and The Bronx Times.