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UN calls for restraint as refugee protest turns violent in Kenya

UN calls for restraint as refugee protest turns violent in Kenya

NAIROBI, (Rahnuma): The UN refugee agency UNHCR has called for restraint after a protest organized by a group of refugees in front of the UNHCR office in Nairobi turned violent on Thursday.

Fathiaa Abdalla, UNHCR’s representative in Kenya, urged dialogue and a peaceful resolution to the situation after the police lobbed teargas canisters at the protesting refugees who were demanding their monthly payments.

“We regret that, despite our continuous efforts to engage with and offer solutions to protestors, the situation has deteriorated over the past 48 hours, with some refugees blocking roads and coming into direct physical confrontation with a small number of police officers,” Abdalla said in a statement issued on Friday evening.

In the past two weeks, about 100 refugees and asylum seekers, including women and children, have camped in front of the UNHCR office in Kenya.

The refugees have accused the UN refugee agency for failing to remit their dues, putting them in precarious situation since they cannot afford food or housing.

Abdalla said the UNHCR staff have been in regular contact with the group to understand their grievances and address them, and to offer its assistance.

She said breaking the laws of their host country can only make the already difficult situation of this group of refugees worse, and risks encouraging anti-refugee sentiments.

“UNHCR remains committed to providing protection and assistance to refugees and asylum seekers, and we continue to advocate with all concerned for dialogue and a peaceful resolution to the current situation,” said Abdalla.

She said a small number of persons in the group on Wednesday started escalating the protests, encouraging demonstrators to block nearby roads and preventing UNHCR staff and others from entering or leaving UNHCR premises.

According to the UNHCR official, threats were also made against specific staff members and some security guards were beaten up.

Abdalla said additional police forces were deployed on Thursday to control the situation, after several protestors began throwing rocks and confronting law enforcement officials. Police had to use teargas to disperse the crowd and arrested 17 people.

“Fortunately, there have been no reports of serious injuries. The situation, although largely calm, remains unpredictable,” noted Abdalla.

She called on the group to stop preventing other refugees, some in a very vulnerable situation, from accessing UNHCR premises and receiving the counseling, protection and assistance that they need.

“We really hope that the violence of a few will not negatively impact the many other refugees living in Kenya,” she added.

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