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Landmark refugee adoption case opens in Kenya

A CONGOLESE family uprooted by war went to court yesterday seeking to be reunited with a Kenyan baby they say they found abandoned on the roadside in a case testing the right of refugees to adopt.

The case could be a first in global legal history, the family's lawyer and the UN refugee agency say.

"I believe it would set a precedent. The law is silent on whether refugees can adopt," lawyer Rose Mbanya told Reuters as the case began at Nairobi's High Court.

Teacher and small businessman Jean-Pierre Tombo Milenge, 47, fled Democratic Republic of Congo's eastern town of Goma with wife Alphonsine Kavira Salambongo, 43, and their nine children in 2005 when, he says, rebels sought to recruit him.

In August 2007, Salambongo came across a baby boy, believed to be one year old, sitting alone by the side of a Nairobi road covered in filth.

"The baby had gone to the toilet on itself. Nobody dared touch him," she told Reuters.

According to the family, police told them they would have to give the child to an orphanage, but six homes declined to take him in. So the refugees made space for the baby at their tiny house in the Kenyan capital.

The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, quickly became a cherished member of the clan and the family applied to adopt him, Milenge and his lawyer said.

After eight months, however, children's authorities stepped in, and took the boy away to a children's home in Nairobi, devastating the family, they said.

"They instructed the orphanage that we can't visit him - they even said they wanted the child to forget us," Milenge said. "At Christmas, we came with gifts and were denied access."

High Court family judge Kalpana Rawal yesterday asked all parties, including the child and a representative from the United States embassy, to return on March 13 for a detailed hearing to work out what action would be in the best interest of the boy, who is now two and a half.


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