Like You and me: Combating Intolerance against Refugees in Kenya

Today the world commemorates the International Day for Tolerance. This day was adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 1995. The aim of commemorating the day is to foster mutual understanding between and among cultures and peoples. It is rooted in the idea that differences among human beings are inevitable, however this does not justify exclusion on account of these differences. Respect for diversity is a necessary condition for the achievement of human rights.

On 19th of September, 2016 the United Nations Secretary General launched the TOGETHER campaign. The campaign was unanimously endorsed by the 193 UN member states. The objectives of this campaign are to reduce negative perceptions and attitudes against refugees and migrants. In addition, the campaign seeks to strengthen the social contract between host countries and communities and refugees and migrants. The campaign is conducted in the context of improving tolerance towards these two categories of human beings.

There are 65.6 million people that are displaced globally. Refugees account for 34 percent of this figure. These individuals have fled their home countries for safety in another country, often a neighbouring one. They are forced to flee because of political persecution and conflict although climate change is increasingly becoming a major displacement factor. Refugees represent that breakdown of state protection and thus states that host them must step in to provide this protection.

Kenya hosts 489,239 refugees. Among the nationalities that are hosted in Kenya include Congolese, Ethiopians, Somali and South Sudanese. These refugees have fled their countries of origin owing to either conflict or political persecution.

Individual stories and experiences are often lost in the figures, trends and graphics that analyse the displacement situation. Rarely are refugees seen as individuals in need of protection; often they are deemed to be a problem that requires a solution: a durable solution. In this context, citizens of the host countries do not see them more as a menace than a fellow human being that is in need of understanding and protection. This situation breeds prejudicial decisions that breed intolerance towards refugees globally and in Kenya.

Refugees in Kenya have been accused of many social ills. A majority of Kenyans believe that refugees contribute to insecurity and thus should be repatriated. This belief is often not rooted in the understanding of causes of displacement largely because Kenyans do not have access to information on refugee experiences.

In response to this information gap, the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) documented some of the refugee stories through a documentary. The documentary allows refugees to tell their stories: their struggles and ambitions in life. Through this documentary RCK aims at reducing negative perceptions and attitudes towards refugees in Kenya through promotion of understanding of the specific displacement circumstance. This was generously supported by the Human Security Division of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs of the Swiss Confederation.

Refugees are like you and me. They have dreams and ambitions. The fact that they are displaced does not extinguish their hopes for a better future. It is our hope that this documentary contributes to a better understanding of the situation of individuals that are displaced. With an increased understanding, together we can keep hope alive for the refugees and improve our tolerance towards them.

Click here to watch the Documentary.