UNHCR temporarily suspends operations after attack on staff by refugees

UNHCR head offices in Westlands. []

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Westlands has its offices closed since May 22 after claims of harassment by asylum seekers.

“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 according to the Star.

However, the agency’s Spokesperson refuted claims that the UN Refugee agency has been closed since Wednesday.

This is despite heavy security deployed at the precincts of the building housing the agency.

“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.

Ndege said the only services temporarily suspended at the Lynwood Court are reception and appointments occasioned by recent disturbances and violence outside the premises.

However, an elderly Ethiopian refugee said “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.”

The refugee said no service at the agency is operational at the moment.

Another refugee who lives under the Westlands Bridge together with 10 others waiting for his appointment with the agency said they have been terrorized by security officers at the UNCHR head offices.

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

“If you persist 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.”

The agency is yet to respond to claims of brutality against refugees.