Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 13:23 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Kenya

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 25 May 2004
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Kenya , 25 May 2004, available at: [accessed 19 January 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 hosted some 219,000 refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2003, including about 140,000 from Somalia, nearly 60,000 from Sudan, some 10,000 from Ethiopia, and nearly 9,000 from other countries.

Some 8,000 new refugees and asylum seekers fled to Kenya during 2003, primarily from Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia.

An estimated 230,000 Kenyans were internally displaced at year's end.

Refugee Protection

Kenya is a party to the UN Refugee Convention, but has no refugee law; consequently, the hundreds of thousands of refugees living in Kenya have no legal status. The Kenyan government's Refugee Eligibility Commission remained dormant during 2003. Absent a functioning governmental refugee office, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) conducted refugee status determinations and managed refugee assistance and protection.

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 2003, more than 140,000 refugees lived in the Dadaab camps, and nearly 70,000 resided in the Kakuma camps.

Tens of thousands of additional 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. Kenyan police arrested nearly 1,000 persons so characterized during the year, including some refugees and asylum seekers officially registered with UNHCR.

In early 2003, the Kenyan government reviewed its refugee encampment policy, which has long denied refugees the right to move freely, seek employment, and own or cultivate land. "The indications from the government are that they will review the encampment policy so that refugees will become producers, not just consumers," UNHCR stated in February. The government took no action by year's end, however.

Refugees from Somalia

Most Somali refugees fled from southern and central Somalia to Kenya during the early 1990s to escape civil war and famine. More than 140,000 refugees, prevented from returning home by Somalia's continued violence and political instability, remained at year's end.

The majority 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 had virtually no way to support themselves and were entirely dependent on humanitarian aid.

Poor donor funding forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to reduce their food rations for several months during the year. In June, acute malnutrition rates among the refugee population in Dadaab reached 24 percent – its highest level in the past six years – a Médecins Sans Frontières survey revealed.

Heavy rains and subsequent floods in May killed several refugees and caused extensive damage to the camps. The rains destroyed nearly 1,000 structures, temporarily displaced several thousand refugees, drowned a significant number of refugees' livestock, and ruined the main road used to deliver humanitarian supplies to Dadaab. The rains also forced UNHCR to suspend the repatriation of some 300 refugees who were scheduled to return to northern Somalia.

More than 2,000 Somali refugees registered with UNHCR for assistance to repatriate voluntarily to relatively peaceful northern Somalia. Fewer than 1,000 actually repatriated, however. Refugees' last minute reluctance to return to Somalia forced UNHCR to postpone additional repatriations.

In 2002, UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration relocated some 12,000 ethnic Somali Bantu refugees from the Dadaab camps to Kakuma in preparation for eventual permanent resettlement abroad – largely to the United States. Fewer than 1,000 had departed by the end of 2003, however. Increased security background checks, put in place after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, slowed the program for the second consecutive year.

Refugees from Sudan

Some 60,000 Sudanese refugees were in Kenya at year's end, the overwhelming majority in the three Kakuma camps in northwest Kenya, about 75 miles (125 km) from the Sudan border. Most have lived in the remote Kakuma camps for more than a decade.

Despite progress toward peace in Sudan during 2003, persistent violence diminished renewed prospects for large-scale repatriation. Kenyan authorities confined them to the camps.

As in previous years, restrictions on their movement and lack of land for agriculture severely limited refugees' ability to support themselves, rendering them solely dependant on humanitarian aid for survival. Lack of funding forced WFP to reduce their food rations by 30 percent during early 2003. Nearly 45 percent of Kakuma residents survived on only one meal per day, Action by Churches Together reported in February.

In June, a cattle-rustling dispute between Sudanese refugees residing in Kakuma and local Turkana residents erupted into violence that killed more than 10 people and forced 30,000 refugees to flee their homes. UNHCR and humanitarian agencies temporarily suspended operations in the Kakuma camps. Most displaced refugees had returned to their camps and agencies had resumed services by August.

In an effort to strengthen refugee protection, the Kenyan government issued photo identity cards to more than 21,000 Sudanese refugees over the age of 18 during 2003. With the identity cards, the first of their kind in 10 years, "we should see less intimidation, harassment, and even arbitrary arrests of refugees," UNHCR stated. The United States accepted some 1,600 for resettlement during 2003 as part of a formal international resettlement program.

Refugees from Ethiopia

Some 10,000 Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers lived in Kenya at the end of 2003, including several thousand in the Dadaab and Kakuma camps. Although significant numbers did not flee to Kenya during 2003, Ethiopians accounted for more than 80 percent of all applicants for refugee status in Nairobi, the Kenya capital during the year.

Internally Displaced Kenyans

Violence has displaced up to 400,000 people in eastern, western, and northern Kenya during the past decade. In most cases, political discontent, simmering land disputes, and ethnic tensions were at the root of Kenya's domestic conflicts. Many internally displaced families surrendered their land titles under duress during the 1990s, and sought shelter in towns and cities. The government then seized and nationalized their land. Most displaced Kenyans were rural farmers and herders ill-equipped to provide for their families in urban areas.

Despite relatively peaceful security conditions and the absence of political violence during 2003, some 230,000 Kenyans remained internally displaced at year's end.

Search Refworld