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Refugee case worker Ann Kamunya

Ann Kamunya, a Sadoko Ogata scholarship holder for the MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration, speaks about human trafficking and how the MA has enlightened her about refugee issues in Kenya.

Written by Keith McDonald |

Ann Kamunya, refugee case worker
Scholarship holder Ann Kamunya at the United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees.

Tell us a little about your role with the UNHCR. Could you describe a typical day?
I am a Refugee Status Determination (RSD) case worker. Basically, I interview asylum seekers and make a legal assessment based on what they have stated, the documents they have produced (if any) and I check corroborative evidence from the country of origin recommending whether the person should be granted asylum or not.

My other duties include identifying vulnerable cases and referring protection cases to relevant units within UNHCR or to partner organisations. I also co-ordinate and manage referral processes for child protection cases. In the past I have been a focal point for LGBTI cases, especially after an influx in 2014 when Uganda passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act.

From Monday to Friday, I conduct RSD interviews with people of different nationalities with different claims. In a day, I might conduct interviews for between two and four cases.

What has led you to this career pathway?
I am an advocate of the High Court of Kenya with a law degree from Moi University in Kenya. For my fourth year dissertation, I did research on child sex trafficking in Kenya. It was during this time that I learnt about the different forms of forced migration.

I started by forming a group that went around Moi University campuses to raise awareness of human trafficking in Kenya, with the help of IOM (International Organization for Migration), which gave us t-shirts, pamphlets and posters.

I created a Facebook group called ‘Stop Human Trafficking in Kenya’, where I post information, statistics and awareness-related events to inform people that human trafficking happens every day in Kenya – a fact that not many people know.

My mind has been opened to the different facets of refugee and forced migration studies. This has made my work even more interesting as I see and experience practically what I am learning theoretically.

I volunteered with a local NGO that was working with internally displaced people (IDPs) among other vulnerable groups, before joining Kenya School of Law for my bar exam. I later volunteered with Awareness Against Human Trafficking (HAART) to create awareness of human trafficking at grassroots level.

After my bar exams, I interned at another local NGO, "Kituo cha Sheria", one of UNHCR’s implementing partners in the Forced Migration programme. This is where I learnt more about refugees and stateless persons. Later on, I joined UNHCR as a National UN Volunteer in Nairobi before securing a job in the Kakuma refugee camp, where I have been working for the last two and a half years now.

What attracted you to the MA Refugee Protection & Forced Migration Studies?
The information and the knowledge I have on forced migration mainly emanates from my practical experience but I really wanted to learn the theoretical part also: to really understand the genesis of forced migration and have an in depth understanding of the different aspects of forced migration.

A friend knew I had this interest and she forwarded me an advertisement for this master’s. After checking it out, it seemed exactly like the course I wished for. So far it has proven to be exactly that.

Can you describe your experience of the programme so far? Has it been helpful to undertake online discussions with fellow students from around the world?
The programme has been enlightening in so many ways. Before starting, I had this assumption that I would probably re-learn things I already know – but I was wrong. This course has shown me that I barely understood what forced migration was. It is interesting to read the many scholarly articles and different views on certain topics from both scholars and my fellow classmates.

The online discussions have been really interesting, even though most of the time I was trying to balance my daily work and my readings and online contributions.

The first few weeks were a bit difficult. Working out how to go about the programme took a while to understand. I realised how the experience at my local University and this master's is very different. With this master’s, I have to read many articles and analyse them. I am still learning how to write better analysis.

For my first module, I had Katy Long as my tutor. This was intimidating in a way and exciting at the same time because she is a famous scholar in this field whose enlightening articles I have come across in previous short courses I did online. To have the opportunity to learn from knowledgeable experts in the subjects is an experience not to be taken for granted.

I have come to learn of other countries who have gone through the same challenges as Kenya and how those countries handled the situation.

Is there a module you have particularly enjoyed?
All the modules were interesting in different ways, but if I were to choose I would say ‘An Introduction to Refugee and Forced Migration Studies’ because I realised that I have been using the term refugee and forced migrants interchangeably without necessarily thinking much about them as different studies.

I also enjoyed learning about the history of different legislations. I learnt more about the history of UNHCR. It was also interesting to learn about refugee and institutions’ voices.

Do you sense the degree making an impact upon your professional career?
In a big way, yes. My mind has been opened to the different facets of refugee and forced migration studies, which has made my work even more interesting as I see and experience practically what I am learning theoretically. This degree will also definitely improve not just my knowledge but also my reading and writing skills.

Kenya is a country hosting a vast number of refugees. The government has recently been calling for closure of one of the biggest and oldest refugee camps in the country, in Daadab, which has resulted in insecurities and a number of terrorist attacks in the country. Most of the attacks are said to have been planned in the refugee camps.

I have come to learn of other countries who have gone through the same challenges as Kenya and how they handled the situation. This is one of the examples of current issues that I enjoy discussing and learning that affects my everyday work.

Ann Kumunya, student in MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration
"I am lucky and blessed to have received a scholarship named after a woman who was hardworking, intelligent, dedicated and passionate about refugee issues."

Brexit and the revised sense of 'border control' has been dominating political debate. How do you see the global outlook for refugees in light of this new development?
The majority of refugees in the UK are from non-European countries; hence, in my view, migration to the UK may not change unless there are changes to refugee policies, such as leaving the European Convention on Human Rights as called for by Home Secretary (now Prime Minister) Theresa May.

Some people have argued that fewer migrants from the EU will create more room for refugees from non-EU states, which is a way of looking at this move positively. The only challenge for the UK under the Dublin Regulation would be returning asylum seekers to their first country of asylum around Europe. This may be good for refugees if the UK is forced to look at their asylum claim, or bad if it decides to put in place unfavourable policies that do not uphold refugees' rights.

As the African Union (AU) plans to start free movement within AU countries, Brexit will serve as an example when members sign up. It may also help with migration and refugee crises in Africa.

What does it mean to you to be a recipient of the Sadoko Ogata scholarship?
I am lucky and blessed to have received a scholarship named after a woman who was hardworking, intelligent, dedicated and passionate about refugee issues.

This scholarship has given me an opportunity to advance my knowledge, learning from the best scholars, and colleagues in the same profession. It has facilitated my pursuit to understand better forced migrant’s issues and how to better serve them.

I hope that, by the end, the knowledge I acquire will improve the lives of forced migrants, and that I will play a role in implementing existing policy and creating it where it is non-existent or unsatisfactory.