Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2018, 14:34 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2009 - Kenya

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 17 June 2009
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2009 - Kenya, 17 June 2009, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Kenya figures


Kenya hosted 377,400 refugees and asylum seekers. More than 262,000 were Somalis who began fleeing the civil war and state failure in 1991 following the fall of the Siad Barre regime. Nearly 66,000 Somalis arrived during 2008. Repatriation of Sudanese refugees continued, but more than 29,000 remained in the country at year's end.

Kenya also hosted about 100,000 stateless Nubians, descendants of Sudanese whom the British conscripted in the early 1900s, and a number of stateless children of mixed Eritrean-Ethiopian marriages.

2008 Summary

Kenyan authorities forced hundreds of Somalis back across the border. Police detained and deported Somalis as they crossed the border; when they reached the camps at Dadaab; and as they traveled between the border and the camps. They extorted bribes, detaining them if they did not pay. In at least one case reported to Human Rights Watch, a 17-year-old girl was raped. Somalis reportedly paid bribes of 7,500 Kenyan shillings (about $105) or more to get across the border and secure transport to the refugee camps at Dadaab.

The Refugee Consortium of Kenya managed to prevent the refoulement of 150 Somalis by securing legal representation for those facing deportation orders and educating immigration officials about refugee law.

Despite Kenya's seemingly closed border with Somalia (border closure was announced in January 2007), roughly 66,000 Somalis arrived during 2008. Continued violence and conflict in Somalia has forced the exodus to Kenya. The border closure eliminated health and security screening at a reception center near the border and increased the number of traffickers smuggling Somalis into Kenya. Arrivals dropped in December, likely due to increased patrols along the border ordered by a local government official.

The camp complex at Dadaab hosted around 238,000 refugees at year's end; more than twice the intended capacity of 90,000. At the beginning of 2008, Dadaab was already short about 25,000 shelters for refugee families. The Ifo and Hagadera camps at Dadaab reached their maximum capacity in May. In July, the Government rejected a UNHCR proposal to build a fourth camp at the Dadaab complex, and the International Organization for Migration transferred 2,000 Somali refugees from Dadaab to Kakuma camp In early 2009, UNHCR began additional consultations with the Kenyan Government in regards to opening a new camp to deal with additional Somali arrivals as well as transferring as many as 50,000 to Kakuma camp located in northwestern Kenya hosting mostly Sudanese refugees.

Environmental activists complained to the Government that any expansion of Dadaab camp would harm the environment, and the refugee camps in general have jeopardized the Hirolla antelope and other endangered species.

Violence, banditry, and shootings were problems at both Dadaab and Kakuma. During 2008, five refugees were killed in Kakuma. Victims include: a Somali man in July and a Sudanese student in October killed during shop robberies; two alleged robbers accused of killing a local businessman lynched by mob; and a 20-year-old Somali girl killed by bandits. During the year, more than 500 crimes were reported between Kakuma and Dadaab (252 at Kakuma; 287 at Dadaab). Crimes included cases of rape, attempted rape, statutory rape, assault, robbery, and theft. There were forty-four armed robberies and nine cases of rape at Kakuma.

Forced marriage and female genital mutilation continued in both camps, with those resisting occasionally being kidnapped. Sexual and gender-based violence were particularly problematic in Dadaab. UNHCR requested increased police presence in identified problematic areas, but the Government refused. Health and social workers in the camps reported that women were increasingly reporting and seeking help after being raped.

During the year, Kenya arrested at least 173 refugees and asylum seekers for illegal entry, with 86 formally arraigned. UNHCR was able to visit detention centers in Nairobi and the camps.

During 2008, more than 8,000 Southern Sudanese refugees repatriated from Kakuma camp.

Media reports suggested as many as 50 weddings between Somali refugee women and Kenyan men of Somali descent occurred each month. Through marriage, refugees received citizenship and cost the men about one tenth the cost of marrying a Kenyan citizen.

UNHCR operated 18 primary and 3 secondary schools in Dadaab, with 40,400 students in total.

In January, UNHCR relocated around 160 refugees from Nairobi to Kakuma camp after they fled the post-election violence which killed more than 1,000 Kenyans and displaced 500,000.

The Government began issuing identity cards to Somali refugees in Nairobi in January. Despite a Government published statement in the official Kenyan Gazette declaring the cards were valid for five years, the cards listed expiration dates for early 2008.

Bandits robbed a store in Kakuma run by an Ethiopian refugee in March, shooting and wounding several refugees as they fled the scene.

Increased tensions and banditry near Dadaab led to several violent incidents in April and May. Incidents include: a Burundian refugee boy was shot and evacuated to Nairobi for surgery; a young female refugee was shot while traveling on a bus; and two refugees were shot during an armed robbery.

A mother of four was wounded by a stray bullet during a clash between refugees and police in July at Kakuma camp. Also in July, after unknown assailants killed a refugee in Kakuma camp, Kenya dispatched police from its General Services Unit to the camp, which improved security through the rest of the year.

In August, Dagahaley camp, the last of the three camps at Dadaab, reached its maximum capacity. Beginning in August, thousands of refugees reportedly experienced delays of weeks in registering in the camps at Dadaab, meaning they could not receive food, water, or other assistance.

Acute malnutrition at mid-year in Dadaab was 13 percent. Although the World Food Programme reported distributing 2,100 calories worth of food per refugee per day, shortages occurred through the sharing of food with new unregistered arrivals and trading food for firewood and other essentials, including shelter.

In October, locals near Dadaab camp demonstrated against the increasing number of Somali arrivals, and presented UNHCR with an official letter of protest. They also reportedly stoned UN vehicles near the camps.

In November, a Somali in Dadaab reported being shot over his conversion to Christianity; an Islamic court in the camp had previously jailed him and fined him 20,000 shillings (about $280) for converting.

By November in Dadaab, the population in the camp grew to the point the water system was producing only 16 liters per person per day; 4 liters below humanitarian standards. The amount actually available for drinking was likely lower, given the number of unregistered refugees in the camps, other uses for water (livestock, brick-making), poor water pressure, overcrowding in pump areas, and people attempting to charge others for water at the pumps. Complicating the problem, sanitation was poor with 6,000 refugees having no access to latrines and at least 50,000 having access to below-standard latrines.

The water supply at Kakuma camp amounted to nearly 24 liters per person per day based on official population statistics, but there was a water shortage during the first three weeks of November. Water shortages created conflict between the Congolese and Somali communities in the camp.

Kenya waived the need for work permits for Rwandan nationals in November as part of a reciprocal arrangement with the Rwandan government.

The Kenyan Government announced in December the exclusion of nearly 840 refugee student's exams, the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exam. The students refused to surrender their cell phones which were used during the tests. Additionally, people outside the exam centers shouted answers to the test takers. The KCPE qualifies students to move on to secondary education. In Kakuma camp, 440 out of 1,215 students passed the exam. Under the terms of the repatriation agreement for Sudanese refugees, 400 students were Sudanese not permitted to advance to secondary school.

A Kenyan police officer beat a 16-year-old refugee in Kakuma camp in mid-December, reportedly for being rude when the officer was dispersing a crowd during ration distribution.

In early 2009, UNHCR suspended two hired security guards at Dadaab amid allegations they had demanded bribes from asylum seekers attempting to register with UNHCR.

Law and Policy

Refoulement/Physical Protection

Kenya is party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention) and its 1967 Protocol, but maintains reservations on the Convention's clauses exempting refugees from exceptional and provisional measures, and providing the right to work, labor protection, social security, and administrative assistance. Kenya is also party to the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. In May, the 2006 Refugees Act went into force but, after the elections, there was no Minister for Immigration and Registration of Persons to promulgate implementing regulations. Nevertheless, authorities cite a requirement for asylum seekers to register within 30 days of entry to deport the refugees in Garissa and elsewhere. The Government refers asylum seekers who apply under the Act to UNHCR, which continues to conduct refugee status determinations and run the camps at Kakuma and Dadaab.

In December 2008, the Government appointed a Commissioner for Refugee Affairs. Under the Act, he receives, processes, and decides applications for refugee status.

The Act recognizes as refugees those with well-founded fears of persecution on 1951 Convention grounds and, prima facie, those compelled to leave their countries because of serious disturbances in part or the whole of such countries. The Act specifically authorizes the immigration minister to declare entire classes of persons to be refugees prima facie. It prohibits refusal of entry or return in any manner of persons to countries where they may be subject to persecution or where serious disturbances of public order threaten their lives or liberty.

Detention/Access to Courts

UNHCR is able to occasionally monitor detention facilities when officials, refugees' family members or friends, or nongovernmental organizations (NGO) inform that authorities are holding refugees or asylum seekers. UNHCR does not systematically monitor police stations in Nairobi, and monitoring is less frequent in locations where the agency does not have a permanent presence.

Police stations generally have poor facilities, and typically hold men, women, and children in the same cell. Kenyan prisons are severely overcrowded, and prisoners experience regular shortages of food, clean water, clothing, and medical care, as well as abusive treatment.

The Refugees Act authorizes the Commissioner for Refugee Affairs to arrest suspected offenders, but prohibits the detention or punishment of any "person claiming to be a refugee" for illegal entry, or proceedings for unlawful presence against persons, or their family members, who have filed legitimate applications for refugee status. The Act also requires the issuance of identity cards or passes to "every refugee and asylum seeker" and calls for the Commissioner for Refugee Affairs to register and issue identity cards to refugees.

UNHCR and the Legal Resources Foundation have trained a network of paralegals, including refugees, to assist detained refugees and report incidents to UNHCR. Kituo cha Sheria operates a legal aid center in the Eastleigh section of Nairobi. The Government provides free legal assistance only to those on trial for capital crimes.

In 2005, the Government had issued identity documents to the refugees in Kakuma; in 2006, roughly 30,000 refugees in Nairobi received slips similar to those issued to Kenyans prior to granting identity cards. Although, the Government registered the refugees in Dadaab in 2006, it did not issue them identity documents. In 2008, the Government began to issue cards to Somali refugees in Nairobi.

UNHCR registers newly arriving refugees in Dadaab. They provide Mandate Refugee Certificates which serve as identity cards for registered asylum seekers.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Kenya confines the vast majority of refugees to desolate refugee camps around Dadaab and Kakuma but has begun to treat UNHCR documentation as de facto authorization to live in Nairobi. However, police still demand bribes from refugees holding UNHCR documents. Camp refugees can receive permission to leave for higher education, specialized medical care, or security.

Police routinely check papers outside camps to enforce movement restrictions. UNHCR and local officials issue Movement Passes for refugees to leave the camps temporarily, typically for medical or other purposes, or for newly arrived refugees traveling to the camp. The processing takes about two weeks, passes expire before they reach the refugees, and authorities often ignore applications.

The Refugees Act allows the immigration minister to establish camps and transit centers, but requires notice in the Gazette, consultation with the host community, and maintained "in an environmentally sound manner." It calls upon the Commissioner to manage and ensure sustainable use of resources in their areas. Refugees residing outside such areas without authorization are subject to fines up to 20,000 shillings (about $310), six months in prison, or both. The Government deploys managers to the two major camps but does not give notice in the Gazette.

The 3,800 refugees who received their status from the Government before 1990 do enjoy freedom of movement and choice of residence. The Government also gives them eligibility for international travel documents. In April 2008, UNHCR turned over responsibility for issuing international travel documents for post-1990 refugees to the Government's Department of Refugee Affairs.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

The Refugees Act subjects refugees to the same wage-earning employment restrictions as other foreigners and calls upon the Commissioner to ensure that refugee economic activities do not have a negative impact upon host communities. Accordingly, refugees must obtain work permits which cost 50,000 shillings (about $697) and are valid for two years. Since November 2008, Kenya has excused Rwandans from the need for work permits.

Under the Immigration Act, the Government allowed class M work permits to refugees it recognized prior to 1990. It stopped renewing these in 2005, but announced it would resume doing so in December 2008.

Kenya does not permit refugees working within the camps to earn salaries; instead, UN and nongovernmental organizations paid them "incentives." These incentives are typically much lower than Kenyan or international staff's salary. As of early 2009, refugees in Kakuma generally earned between 1,800 and 5,500 shillings (about $23 to $71) per month, compared to 35,000 to 120,000 shillings (about $450 to $1,500) for Kenyan nationals.

Most refugees work in the informal sector, often relying on Kenyan partners to register small businesses.

Kenya maintains reservations on the 1951 Convention's right to work to allow protectionist restrictions on refugee employment for four years instead of the three the Convention allows and to reject its requirement to give sympathetic consideration to assimilating refugee rights to those of nationals. It is still obliged to accord refugees "the most favorable" treatment accorded to nationals of foreign countries.

Kenya's reservation to the 1951 Convention's extension of social security and compensation for death from job-related injuries and diseases is only that it apply them "as far as the law allows." The reservation, however, does not cover the Convention's requirement that Kenya extends equal treatment to refugees under its labor legislation. Nevertheless, most refugees do not enjoy such protection. They also lack documentation to acquire land, bank accounts, vehicles, and other assets.

Public Relief and Education

Camp residents receive free health services, but if refugees use public services outside the camps without a referral, the facilities charge them as foreigners. The Government provides the same free primary education to both refugees and nationals but those outside the camps often have trouble purchasing books and uniforms.

Kenya does not include refugees in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper it prepared for international donors, but its UN Development Assistance Framework for 2009-2013 includes implementation of the Refugees Act and refugee governance in its first priority area, Improving Governance and the Realization of Human Rights. The Refugees Act also calls upon the Commissioner for Refugee Affairs to initiate projects promoting harmony between host communities and refugees and to advise the immigration minister on soliciting funds for refugee programs that help host communities.

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