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10:08 pm - Sunday October 21, 2018

UNHCR suspends services, says refugees attack staff - The Star

By RAMADHAN RAJAB

The UN refugee agency in Westlands has be closed, amid claims of harassment by asylum seekers.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees offices have been closed since May 22. However, the spokesman denied the claims.

“Appointments have been suspended due to attacks and threats by refugees against staff. Services will resume as soon their safety is guaranteed,” a text sent by the agency to some refugees on Wednesday read.

Our attempts to access the office on Thursday and Friday were futile. Security guards and police officers blocked the office. They violently chased away refugees.

“The office is not closed. UNHCR continues to receive refugees and interact with refugees in various ways. Refugees are continuously being received at Shauri Moyo. We also have a 24 hour helpline which refugees can call,” spokesperson Yvonne Ndege said.

She said the reception and appointments are the only services temporarily suspended at Lynwood Court, owing to recent “disturbances and violence outside the premises”.

“Those are lies. Allegations of an attempt to snatch a gun from a security official are just an excuse to close the office. They think they can evade questions on why they are treating us like animals,” an elderly Ethiopian refugee said.

She dismissed Ndege’s assertions that other services at the agency were still operational.

“Now that we have spoken to you, we won’t sleep. They will deploy police and gangs to terrorise us all night. Look at this scars I got the because of what stand-off,” said another refugee, whom the Star has tracked for a year.

She stays in a makeshift structure under the Westlands bridge as they wait they wait for their appointment with the agency. More than 10 refugee families live in the same place.

“If you don’t have money to bribe some officials, or a woman unwilling to ‘sell your body’ in exchange for favours, you will be taken in circles,” another refugee said.

“If you persists in seeking for rights, they send police to harass you. Sometimes you re beaten or locked up. This is the life I  have become accustomed to for the last 10 months I have been here,” he added.

This is not the first time UNCHR is on spotlight over allegations of sexual exploitation, harassment and mistreatment of refugees. The agency has in the past denied the allegations.

Ndege didn’t respond to allegations of brutality against the refugees.

Filed in: Current Affairs / News