Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 10:22 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Kenya

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 20 June 2001
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2001 - Kenya , 20 June 2001, available at: [accessed 15 December 2017]
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 hosted approximately 230,000 refugees at the end of 2000: an estimated 160,000 from Somalia, more than 55,000 from Sudan, about 8,000 from Ethiopia, about 5,000 from Uganda, and nearly 5,000 from other countries.

Some 100,000 Kenyans were internally displaced.

Approximately 5,000 Kenyans repatriated during 2000, all from Ethiopia.

An estimated 10,000 new refugees and asylum seekers fled to Kenya during 2000, primarily from Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia.

General Refugee Protection

Kenya has no refugee law. The hundreds of thousands of refugees living in Kenya have no legal status.

Kenyan authorities required most refugees to live in three designated camps near the village of Dadaab in the country's remote east, and in three camps in northwest Kenya known as Kakuma. At the end of 2000, some 130,000 refugees lived in the Dadaab camps, and some 65,000 resided in the Kakuma camps.

Tens of thousands of refugees continued to live without humanitarian assistance in urban areas, particularly in the capital, Nairobi. Government authorities asserted that as many as 100,000 lived in Kenya's main cities and towns. During 2000, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and government officials granted refugee status to several thousand urban-dwelling asylum seekers. The new refugees and several hundred needy urban asylum seekers awaiting refugee status determination received subsistence allowances and educational, medical, and employment assistance from UNHCR.

During 2000, the already poor security conditions in and around Dadaab and Kakuma camps deteriorated. "The situation is dismal," a UNHCR report stated in November. "Persons who have fled violence in their home countries find themselves confronted with violence in the country of asylum."

UNHCR provided several new patrol vehicles, bulletproof vests, and communication equipment during 2000 to help strengthen police forces responsible for Dadaab and Kakuma camps. UNHCR funding constraints delayed the establishment of a more coordinated security force and hindered support for local Kenyan police.

Domestic and sexual violence against females remained a chronic problem in and around the Dadaab and Kakuma camps. While reported rapes declined from 164 in 1998 to an estimated 72 in 2000, many sexual crimes went unreported. More than 80 percent of all rapes occurred while females collected firewood and building material outside the camps.

A U.S. government-funded program to purchase firewood for refugee families helped protect women and girls from dangerous forays to collect wood more than 12 miles (20 km) into isolated areas. The program, supplied only one-third of families' cooking fuel needs. UNHCR distributed no firewood in September and December.

Although the 500-mile (800 km) Kenya-Somali border re-opened in April after an eight-month closure caused by weapons smuggling, illegal movement of armed Somalis into Kenya remained "very frequent," Kenyan police stated in November. The American-based Fund for Peace reported that "armed groups, including arms-trafficking networks, ethnic militia, and bandits," used the refugee camps as bases of operation. Weapons smuggling exacerbated already "rampant" incidents of armed violence in and around the camps, a UNHCR report affirmed.

Refugees from Somalia

Most Somali refugees fled to Kenya during 1991-92 to escape civil war and famine in their own country. More than half have returned to Somalia. Continued instability, primarily in the south, has prevented the remaining Somali refugees from returning home.

Recurring violence in central and southern Somalia during 2000 pushed approximately 4,000 new Somali refugees into Kenya. An estimated 160,000 Somali refugees remained in Kenya at year's end.

Nearly 1,000 Somali refugees voluntarily repatriated from Kenya and returned to their areas of origin in northern Somalia via UNHCR-chartered flights in February. UNHCR provided the returnees with a repatriation grant equivalent to $120, and additional funds equivalent to $50 for transportation costs within Somalia. Returnees also received blankets, plastic sheeting, and water cans.

More than 60 percent of Somali refugees lived in the three Dadaab camps near the Kenya-Somalia border. The camps' location in an isolated, harsh desert-savannah environment offered limited opportunities for self-sufficiency. Entirely dependent on humanitarian aid, the Somali refugees and their livestock competed for scarce natural resources with local pastoral nomads.

In early 2000, four arson attacks occurred in Somali neighborhoods of the Kakuma camps, heightening tensions for all refugees in Kakuma and aggravating internal power struggles among Somali refugee leaders. Although camp officials reported no injuries, the fires razed some 700 shelters and temporarily displaced more than 4,000 refugees. Police arrested six camp residents in connection with the fires.

UNHCR budget constraints forced continued reductions in income-generating programs, water and sanitation infrastructure improvements, education activities, and assistance to disabled refugees.

The World Food Program (WFP) was unable to provide refugees with a normal daily food ration during the year. Budget constraints and distribution problems forced WFP to reduce food rations by half on several occasions. An estimated 20 percent of children admitted to the hospital during July suffered from malnutrition, including children under the age of five whose rate of malnutrition increased from less than 1 percent to nearly 8 percent, a humanitarian agency reported.

Kenya's foreign affairs minister in September called for the "urgent repatriation of all Somali refugees," and insisted that the "presence of the refugees has overstretched Kenya's ailing economy and aggravated insecurity."

Refugees from Sudan

Several thousand new Sudanese refugees fled to Kenya during 2000 because of continued civil war in their own country. Some 55,000 Sudanese refugees were in Kenya at year's end. The overwhelming majority lived in three Kakuma camps in northwest Kenya, about 75 miles (125 km) from the Sudan border.

Tensions among the refugee population remained high. Budget constraints forced WFP to cut food rations in half, ethnic hostilities among refugees lingered, and local Kenyan residents accused refugees of stealing cattle and other crimes. Funding shortfalls forced aid agencies to curtail counseling services, suspend construction of new classrooms, and fire local staff. Some children in the camp were abducted back into Sudan by relatives, UNHCR reported.

The Kakuma camps were "a forlorn agglomeration at the best of times," and the agency's management of the camps was "tenuous and strained," a UNHCR evaluation acknowledged in November. "Budget and staffing ... were shrinking relative to the size" of the refugee population, UNHCR reported. The amount of money spent on assis tance per Sudanese refugee declined more than 22 percent since 1997.

A rigorous census during the year fingerprinted and photographed residents of the Kakuma camps and revealed that the actual number of Sudanese refugees was 11,000 fewer than previously believed. Nearly 4,000 unaccompanied minors resided in the camps.

About 19,000 children, primarily Sudanese, attended 22 primary schools at Kakuma. Three secondary schools and three vocational training schools also operated. Despite a drought in northwest Kenya, water supplies for the refugee population remained at acceptable levels.

More than 1,000 Sudanese boys and young men departed Kenya and resettled in the United States during 2000. They were known as the "lost boys" of Sudan because many of them had been uprooted and separated from their families for nearly a decade. Eventually some 3,000 Sudanese are expected to move to the United States as part of the resettlement program.

Ethiopian Refugees

At the end of 2000, Kenya hosted about 8,000 Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers, including nearly 1,000 who arrived during the year.

At the start of 1999, some 5,000 Ethiopian refugees lived in Kenya. They were remnants of a much larger population who fled to Kenya during 1991-92. Although some 20,000 additional Ethiopian asylum seekers entered Kenya during 1999, UNHCR accorded formal refugee recognition to only about 4,000 of the new arrivals by the end of 1999. The rest were either rejected or still awaited final determination of their refugee status.

In September 1999, UNHCR declared that Ethiopian refugees who fled their country prior to 1991 would lose their automatic refugee status because they no longer had a "valid fear of persecution." Effective March 2000, the UNHCR declaration withdrew automatic refugee status for Ethiopian refugees who fled prior to 1991, including many of the estimated 5,000 who remained in Kenya.

Long-term Ethiopian refugees who claimed to have "compelling reasons" for not wanting to return to their country were to apply for individual screening interviews to determine their status. UNHCR reported in mid-2000 that several thousand pre-1991 Ethiopian refugees planned to apply for permanent refugee status. At year's end, approximately 5,000 cases were reportedly pending.

Internally Displaced Kenyans

Violence displaced up to 400,000 people in eastern, western, and northern Kenya during the past decade. Credible evidence suggested that Kenyan government authorities incited much of the violence for political gain at the expense of political opponents. In most cases, political discontent, simmering land disputes, and ethnic tension were at the root of Kenya's domestic conflicts.

In 1999, the Kenyan government's "Presidential Commission on the Ethnic Clashes" concluded nearly a year of hearings into the country's violent population displacement. Kenyan President Daniel Arap Moi received a final report from the commission in August 1999 but had not released the findings publicly by the end of 2000.

While President Moi renewed his call in 2000 for internally displaced Kenyans to go back to their areas of origin, Kenyan authorities "failed to provide adequate security" to uprooted families who wished to return home, Human Rights Watch reported. Many internally displaced families had surrendered their land titles under duress years earlier and sought shelter in towns and cities, leaving their property for the government to seize and nationalize. Most displaced Kenyans were rural farmers and herders ill-equipped to provide for their families in urban areas.

Pockets of violence persisted during 2000. In January, families living in Kenya's drought-stricken northwest district of Turkana migrated to refugee camps at Kakuma. Several thousand people gathered around the camps and received food and other items from UNHCR. The "one-time gesture" was to "help the local community," UNHCR stated.

In December, local authorities in Kenya's northeast district of Wajir accused government officials in Nairobi of failing to protect residents from an attack by alleged Ethiopian militiamen, independent news sources reported. The Ethiopian government officially denied responsibility for the incident. The attack reportedly killed 10 persons and forced several thousand Kenyans to flee their homes.

Although no other major new population displacement or political violence occurred during 2000, perhaps as many as 100,000 Kenyans remained internally displaced at year's end. The precise number, however, was uncertain. Many families previously displaced have returned to their areas of origin or resettled in other regions of Kenya.

Kenyan Returnees

In 1993, thousands of Kenyan citizens fled to Ethiopia to escape ethnic conflict. As 2000 began, an estimated 5,000 Kenyan refugees, mostly herdsmen, women, and children, lived in two refugee camps along the Ethiopia-Kenya border in Moyale, southern Ethiopia. Plans to repatriate the refugees in 1999 stalled when Kenyan authorities questioned the validity of the refugees' Kenyan citizenship, blocking the population's return.

Kenyan officials verified the refugees' citizenship in March 2000. In June, UNHCR and the governments of Kenya and Ethiopia signed a tripartite agreement to facilitate the refugees' repatriation. In December, nearly all the refugees voluntarily repatriated.

The returnees traveled for two days to their areas of origin in northeast Kenya in UNHCR-organized convoys. UNHCR provided the returnees with an in-transit food allowance, plastic sheeting, blankets, a transportation allowance to reach their areas of origin, and a nine-month food supply from WFP before departing Ethiopia.

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