Nairobi: ABOUT 600 stateless Zimbabweans who arrived in Kenya over five decades have been issued with identity documents under a programme supported by the United Nations.
The Shona community arrived in Kenya from Zimbabwe as Christian missionaries in the 1960s.
They carried Rhodesian passports and were registered as British subjects. After Kenya’s independence in 1963, they had a two-year window to register as Kenyans, which many missed, rendering them stateless.
“This is how statelessness happens,” says Wanja Munaita, a protection officer with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. “At the time, members of the community didn’t know they could or even needed to register.”
“It’s a protection tool…Most of all it’s a legal document and they have never really had a legal document saying who they really are. So, this has a big impact on the children.”
Without proof of nationality, the Shona and other stateless communities were unable to fully access basic rights like education or health insurance.
They could not travel, own property, be formally employed or access financial services, among other rights enjoyed by Kenyan citizens.
The move by the government to issue birth certificates has been hailed as an important step towards ending statelessness for the community of around 3,500, half of whom are aged under 18.
UNHCR is working closely with the government and civil society in Kenya to resolve statelessness. In 2016, around 4,000 Makonde were recognized as the 43rd tribe of Kenya, a major breakthrough.