Kenya has kicked off a campaign against the rights of refugees to access jobs in host countries, which could put the country at odds with the international community.
The EastAfrican has learnt that Nairobi is seeking to defeat a proposal being pushed by the European Union to allow refugees to get jobs in host countries just like other labour migrants.
The proposal comes as a Bill seeking to give refugees the right to own land and get jobs and business permits awaits presidential assent after sailing through parliament.
The bid to lock the refugees out of the local job market has elicited mixed reactions, leading to calls for further consultations before Africa takes a common position on the matter.
At the recent International Labour Conference in Geneva, Kenya and other countries pushing for the counter proposal argued that allowing refugees to compete for the few available jobs with locals was not fair.
Kenya said allowing refugees to work in the country could pose security risks, given that the planning of some past terror attacks in the country was undertaken at the Dadaab refugee camp.
The matter was brought before the caucus of the African delegation in Geneva a day before the International Labour Organisation conference started on June 3, but government delegations across the continent called for more consultations before the issue could become a subject of discussion at the ILO.
The lack of a common stand from Africa resulted in exclusive discussions on the plight of labour migrants and the need for support and protection of their rights.
Some African countries, among them South Africa and Ethiopia, called for more consultations to avoid problems like xenophobia.
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Sources at the meeting revealed that countries opposed to Kenya’s proposal argued that some refugees have skills that are needed in the job market.
However, countries supporting Kenya argued that granting refugees the right to get jobs in host countries would amount to brain drain and the refugees might not go back to provide solutions to problems in their own countries.
Most countries, among them EU member states, called for continued consultations to build consensus and better understanding on the matter.
The governments of Norway and Malta distanced themselves from the debate on refugees, and urged the committee members to steer clear of the subject.
“Norway noted that migration would increase as long as wars, conflict, poverty and inequalities existed. The present discussion should focus on labour migration exclusively, not refugees or asylum seekers,” reads a report prepared by the Labour Migration committee of the International Labour Conference.
Bill awaiting assent
In Nairobi, a private member’s Bill pushing for the rights of refugees to get employment in Kenya is awaiting presidential assent to become law, but the government’s new push may jeopardise its chances.
The Bill, pushed by Dhiwa Member of Parliament Agostino Neto, wants refugees to have land ownership rights and access to business opportunities and work permits.
The Kenyan government has been at loggerheads with the international community over the plight of refugees since it started the process of repatriating 500,000 refugees to Somalia last year.
The UK and Germany have been pushing for the rights of refugees to get jobs in host countries to reduce the high numbers resorting to dangerous trips through the Mediterranean Sea in search of jobs in Europe.