UNHCR praises Kenya’s decision to grant Shona people citizenship

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has praised the Kenyan government’s decision to grant citizenship to thousands of people who had lived in the country for decades as stateless.

Fathia Abdalla, the UNHCR Representative in Kenya said the move by President Uhuru Kenyatta to grant citizenship to Shona and Rwandese people is “a life-changing development.”

“We applaud the Government of Kenya’s decision to grant them citizenship, ensuring that they are fully included in society. This will also set a precedent for other countries to follow when it comes to resolving longstanding statelessness,” she said in a statement on Monday.

On Saturday as Kenya marked Jamhuri Day, President Kenyatta directed that some 1,670 Shona people and another 1,300 stateless people of Rwandan origin be granted citizenship papers.

Earlier, President Kenyatta directed that the government issue citizenship to the Makonde people originally from Mozambique but who had lived in Kenya as stateless people for many decades.

The Shona, originally from Zimbabwe, arrived in Kenya before independence and worked as church missionaries on British travel documents. When Kenya gained independence, they had 24 months to apply for citizenship but most did not, leaving them stateless.

“Their recognition as citizens secures their rights, such as access to education, healthcare, employment, property ownership and access to financial services,” the UNHCR boss in Kenya said.

Kenya has some 18,500 people considered stateless and UNHCR said it will work with the government to help them get recognition.