Refugees have welcomed the opening of a new courthouse constructed by UNHCR in Dadaab Refugee Camp.
The new courthouse was funded by the European Union and cost US $310,000 to construct. The courthouse includes a main courtroom, chambers, offices and other facilities.
The lack of a courthouse in Dadaab over the years has made it difficult for refugees to access justice and resolve disputes.
Prior to the opening of the new courthouse, refugees would have to travel over 100 kilometres to Garissa town, the capital of Garissa County, where Dadaab is situated, for hearings and other legal services.
“I had to leave my children in the camp to attend court to sort out my legal affairs.”
Amina Ahmed is one example. In the past she travelled many times to Garissa’s main courthouse as she sought custody orders for a fostered child. Amina says the presence of judicial services in Dadaab is long overdue.
“We are very happy that UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the Government of Kenya have brought legal services closer to us. In the past I had to leave my children in the camp to attend court to sort out my legal affairs. It was incredibly time consuming and expensive.”
UNHCR in Kenya handed over the courthouse to government officials at an official opening ceremony. UNHCR works with the Kenyan judicial authorities to make sure that the nearly quarter of a million refugees that live in Dadaab, have access to justice. Opening a new courthouse is crucial.
The lack of a proper courthouse meant over the years many refugees had to rely on traditional mainly Somali justice system, referred to as Maslaha. Most of the refugees in Dadaab are originally from Somalia. But many refugees says it’s been inadequate, and a formalised system, enshrined in Kenyan law was much needed.
The Garissa County Principal Kadhi, Mr. Hassan Mohamed, himself a senior official from the Kenya Judiciary, explained the importance of the judiciary having a presence among the refugee population and the Dadaab host communities.
“The Kenyan judiciary are happy about the establishment of this new courthouse in Dadaab, probably more courts are needed, but it’s a good start. We are cognizant of the fact that for many people, justice delayed is justice denied.”
“Now we will not have to wait for months to access justice.”
Local Kenyan Somalis from the host community will also benefit from and be able to use the courthouse to sort our legal affairs. Kenyans like Ali Abdullahi, who lives in Dadaab also welcomed the courthouse.
“The opening of the courthouse is great. Now we will not have to wait for months to access justice. Some of the disputes faced by us, pastoralists for example, require a quick dispensation of justice.”
The Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK), UNHCR’s legal partner in Dadaab will provide a lawyer to assist refugees needing court services.
“The strides being made to enhance refugee access to justice are a really clear testimony the that we are committed to the implementation of the constitution. We will continue to work to make sure that there’s provision of free legal services to the displaced,” Betty Muriithi, RCK Programme Manager, said.
A formalised system, enshrined in Kenyan law was much needed.
Jean Bosco Rushatsi, UNHCR Head of Operations in Dadaab thanked partners and donors for the milestone.
“The monthly mobile courts that used to operate from time to time were inadequate and many at times refugees and members of the host community were forced to travel very far to sort out legal disputes, as many know. The new courthouse is a great facility for all. UNHCR thanks all donors and partners who have been involved in getting it open.”
It is anticipated that the new courthouse will be opened to the refugees and the general public in the first half of 2018.