Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 November 2017, 17:20 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Kenya

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 10 June 2002
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 - Kenya , 10 June 2002, available at: [accessed 22 November 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 245,000 refugees at the end of 2001, including an estimated 160,000 from Somalia, some 70,000 from Sudan, nearly 5,000 from Ethiopia, more than 5,000 from Uganda, and more than 3,000 from other countries.

Internal violence uprooted some 6,000 Kenyans during 2001. An estimated 200,000 to 250,000 Kenyans were internally displaced at year's end.

Approximately 30,000 new refugees and asylum seekers fled to Kenya during 2001, primarily from Somalia, Sudan, and Tanzania.

Refugee Protection

Kenya has no refugee law; consequently, the hundreds of thousands of refugees living in Kenya have no legal status. Absent national refugee legislation and adequate financial support for the government's Refugee Eligibility Commission, "the legal framework for implementation of a refugee assistance program in Kenya remains fragile," the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported in November.

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 known as Kakuma in northwest Kenya. At the end of 2001, about 130,000 refugees lived in the Dadaab camps, and nearly 70,000 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 more than 100,000 "illegal immigrants" lived in Kenya's main cities and towns. UNHCR provided primary and secondary education assistance, subsistence allowances, and counseling to more than 2,000 urban refugees during 2001.

Poor security conditions in and around the Dadaab and Kakuma camps worsened during 2001. "The situation is precarious and unpredictable, with occasional hostile interaction between refugees and the local population," a UNHCR report observed. "This is putting at risk refugees, nongovernmental organizations, and UNHCR staff working in the camps." UNHCR purchased communications equipment and 11 new vehicles to help police respond to security threats and other incidents at Dadaab and Kakuma.

Domestic and sexual violence against females remained a chronic problem in and around the Dadaab and Kakuma camps. Despite numerous programs to address sexual violence, reported rapes increased during 2001. More than 80 percent of all rapes occurred while females collected firewood and building material outside the camps.

Although UNHCR continued to supply firewood to refugee families to help protect women and girls from dangerous forays into isolated areas to collect wood, its firewood-distribution program supplied only one-third of families' household fuel needs. Time-consuming negotiations with local firewood carriers delayed distribution in Dadaab.

In July 2001, the Kenya government banned all cross-border trade with Somalia, including air shipments, and closed its 500-mile (800 km) shared border. Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi insisted that his government "would not deal with political factions fighting for power in Somalia," and vowed to keep the border closed until Somalia formed a new central government. The border closing also aimed to curb the flow of illegal weapons into Kenya. In November, President Moi reopened the border as a "goodwill gesture."

A UN investigation in 2001 revealed an elaborate criminal network, involving as many as 70 people, that enabled refugees and others in Nairobi to manipulate the international refugee resettlement program in order to emigrate from Kenya to Australia, Canada, Great Britain, Northern Ireland, and the United States. Kenyan authorities arrested and charged nine individuals in Nairobi, including three local UNHCR staff members, with conspiracy and other crimes related to smuggling of refugees and fraudulent refugee claimants for illegal fees of up to $5,000.

"The problem of poor management in UNHCR, especially at the Kenya office, provided opportunities for the criminally minded to achieve unjust enrichment at the expense of refugees," the UN investigative report concluded in December.

The report urged UNHCR to restructure its Kenya office, increase international security staff, and enhance programs to better inform refugees of their rights and obligations.

Refugees from Somalia

Most Somali refugees fled from southern and central Somalia to Kenya during the early 1990s to escape civil war and famine. An estimated 160,000 Somali refugees, prevented from returning home by continued violence and political instability, remained in Kenya at year's end.

During 2001, Somalia's fledgling transitional government did little to improve security conditions throughout the country. In March, sustained violence in southwestern Somalia pushed some 15,000 new refugees into Kenya. However, more than 10,000 of the new refugees spontaneously repatriated, including nearly 4,000 vulnerable refugees who returned home with UNHCR assistance. A residual group of several thousand new refugees resided in and around the town of Mandera in northeastern Kenya at year's end.

More than 10,000 Somali refugees registered with UNHCR for assistance in repatriating voluntarily to relatively peaceful northern Somalia. Although northern Somali government authorities granted permission for the repatriation, UNHCR lacked the financial resources to facilitate the operation.

More than 65 percent of Somali refugees lived in the three Dadaab camps in North Eastern Province near the Kenya-Somalia border. Confined to the isolated camps – situated in a harsh, desert-savannah region lacking natural resources – most refugees had virtually no opportunity to achieve self-sufficiency and were entirely dependent on humanitarian aid.

Lack of donor funding forced the World Food Program to reduce refugees' normal daily food ration by more than one-third during most of 2001. In June, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) registered a 170 percent increase in severe malnutrition rates among young Somali children living in the Dadaab camps. "As a direct consequence of the food rations drop, the number of severely malnourished children has shown an alarming increase," MSF concluded.

UNHCR budget constraints continued to hinder refugee-education programs. Although the demand for education was very high among Somali refugee children and adults, more than half of school-aged children did not attend school during 2001 because adequate classrooms and properly trained teachers were in short supply. More than 100 students typically crowded into a single classroom. Lack of funding also forced UNHCR and other humanitarian assistance agencies to curb vocational-training programs for adults.

Refugees from Sudan

Continued civil war in Sudan pushed an average of 1,000 new Sudanese refugees into Kenya each month during 2001. Some 70,000 Sudanese refugees were in Kenya at year's end, the overwhelming majority in three Kakuma camps in northwest Kenya, about 75 miles (125 km) from the Sudan border.

The situation in the Kakuma camps was "one of a chronic emergency of complex origins," an international relief organization reported in March. "The camps are located in an extremely poor region of Kenya where four years of poor rains have exacerbated the already existing tension between refugees and their hosts."

In April, disputes among Sudanese refugees caused by regional differences escalated into violence, leaving seven refugees dead and 150 others injured after several days of fighting. Peace-education programs, including integrated sports projects, and cooperation between UN agencies, private humanitarian organizations, law-enforcement officials, and refugee and local community leaders helped mitigate further security problems during the year.

Unexpected heavy rains produced flash floods in November that killed two refugee boys, destroyed some 7,000 huts, and temporarily displaced more than 23,000 refugees in the Kakuma camps. Humanitarian assistance workers teamed with refugees to construct about 60 new dwellings per day.

The continual influx of Sudanese refugees during 2001 added to overcrowding in classrooms at the Kakuma camps, where more than 20,000 students attended 21 primary schools. Three secondary schools and three vocational training schools also operated, and UNHCR constructed 12 new classrooms to accommodate the camp's growing school-aged population. Construction of a new classroom designated for girls contributed to a 10 percent reduction in the camp's female dropout rate, while girls' enrollment in primary school increased to 44 percent during the year.

Successive years of severe drought and a poor water distribution network caused water shortages throughout the Kakuma camps.

More than 2,000 Sudanese boys and young men departed Kenya and resettled in the United States during 2001 as part of a formal international resettlement program. They were known as the "lost boys" of Sudan because many of them had been separated from their families for nearly a decade. Some 3,000 Sudanese have resettled in the United States during the past two years as part of the program.

Refugees from Ethiopia

Nearly 6,000 Ethiopian refugees lived in Kenya at the end of 2001.

UNHCR granted refugee status to more than 250 Ethiopian soldiers and university students who sought asylum in Kenya during 2001. UNHCR transferred nearly half of the new refugees to the Dadaab camps, while many others chose to remain in Nairobi.

Refugees from Tanzania

Clashes between police and opposition demonstrators on the Tanzanian islands of Zanzibar and Pemba escalated into violence that killed dozens of civilians and forced more than 2,000 persons to flee to Kenya in January 2001. Nearly all the refugees fled by boat to the southeastern Kenyan coastal village of Shimoni.

UNHCR and the governments of Kenya and Tanzania signed a voluntary repatriation agreement in May promising refugees that they could return home without fear of prosecution by Tanzanian authorities. Most refugees had voluntarily repatriated by year's end.

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.

The Kenyan government's Presidential Commission on the Ethnic Clashes concluded nearly a year of hearings into the country's violent population displacement in 1999 and submitted a report to President Moi. By the end of 2001, the government still had not released the report publicly or announced any formal action on the report's findings.

Many internally displaced families surrendered their land titles under duress during the 1990s 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.

In March, Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) published a lengthy report, The Current Situation of Internally Displaced Persons in Kenya, which examined sources of conflict and population upheaval in Kenya. The JRS report identified seven categories of displaced persons: landowners who lost the legal right of land ownership; landowners unwilling to reconstruct their homes or farms because of lingering dangers; displaced squatters; individuals and families ordered from temporary camps for internally displaced persons; perpetrators of the original violence displaced by revenge attacks; orphans; and pastoralists. The report noted that poor security, poverty, and land disputes hindered the return of some 230,000 internally displaced Kenyans to their original homes.

"There is a need to recognize the refugee-like circumstances of Kenya's internally displaced population and lobby the government to accept its responsibility for them," the report concluded.

Pockets of violence persisted during 2001. In November, hostilities erupted between ethnic Pokomo farming communities and ethnic Orma pastoralists over water and grazing lands in eastern Kenya. Two weeks of fighting killed some 60 people, razed hundreds of homes, and uprooted more than 3,000 individuals.Many of the displaced continued to reside in rudimentary shelters in makeshift camps with minimal humanitarian assistance at year's end.

"We do not know the fate of most of the innocent civilians forced to flee this avoidable violence," a local relief agency spokesman reported.

In December, ongoing disagreements between tenants and landlords over uncontrolled rents in Nairobi's largest slum, Kibera, escalated into armed violence that killed more than 10 people, injured some 100 others, destroyed several thousand structures, and displaced more than 3,000 individuals. Many remained homeless at the end of 2001.

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