13 March 2012

Kenya: 8,000 Disabled Refugees Stranded As Staff Sacked

Photo: Kate Holt/IRIN
A woman in the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab in Kenya.

About 8,000 disabled refugees are stranded at Daadab after an international NGO sacked Kenyans who were caring for them. The sacked workers said they protested new contracts which stripped them of nearly all allowances and forced them to work six days a week. Handicap International finance and administration manager Mirela Le Dortz said he had given the workers until Thursday last week to sign the new contracts or lose their jobs. They did not sign the contracts.

The organisation has now closed three centres in the Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera camps, where the 25 staff were based. The 8,000 refugees get wheelchairs, counselling, treatment and referral services at the centres. The workers yesterday claimed they might be replaced by foreigners. "French expatriates have been on standby and it is just a matter of time we are replaced," said one who declined to be named.

About 50 disabled Somalis cross over to Kenya daily seeking refugee status, according to HI, the only NGO offering support to disabled immigrants. Head of HI mission in Daadab Jerome Gasnier yesterday did not respond to our calls and was said to be in meetings the whole day. The sacked staff said there are already 10 French expatriates at the organisation's emergency department in Dadaab doing work that could be done by Kenyans.

They claimed some are relatives of diplomats at the French Embassy who facilitated their immigration documents. "Kenyan staff are working under a lot pressure, fear and intimidation. They live with fear of being terminated any time their French bosses feel like it," said a former staff in Daadab.

This is the second time activities at the camp are grinding to a halt. The first time was in October 2011,after two MSF staffs were abducted in the IFO II refugee camp. Handicap International withdrew its development workers from the camps and moved everyone to Nairobi. In December a few members of staff were allowed back to Dadaab because the situation had improved.

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