Kenya hosted approximately 255,000 refugees at the end of 1999: at least 160,000 from Somalia, about 65,000 from Sudan, 20,000 from Ethiopia, about 5,000 from Uganda, some 3,000 from Rwanda, and nearly 1,000 from other countries.

About 5,000 Kenyans were refugees in Ethiopia at year's end. An estimated 100,000 Kenyans were internally displaced, although sources varied widely.

About 50,000 new refugees and asylum seekers fled to Kenya during 1999, primarily from Somalia, Ethiopia, and Sudan.

General Refugee Protection

Although Kenya hosted hundreds of thousands of refugees during the 1990s, the country has no refugee law. Refugees have no legal status in Kenya.

Kenyan authorities required most refugees to live in three designated camps in the country's remote eastern region, near the village of Dadaab, and in three camps in western Kenya, known as Kakuma. The government systematically closed several camps near the coastal city of Mombasa during the late 1990s. By the end of 1999, about 110,000 refugees resided in the Dadaab camps, and some 75,000 refugees lived at the Kakuma sites.

Tens of thousands of refugees continued to live without assistance in urban areas, particularly in the capital, Nairobi. Government officials asserted that as many as 100,000 refugees lived in Kenya's main cities and towns.

Kenyan officials "tend to have limited interest in the situation of refugees," an unofficial evaluation report commissioned by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) concluded in October 1999. "These circumstances do not provide a very conducive environment for the protection and security of refugees."

The evaluation report for UNHCR, which did not represent the agency's "official" views, stated that refugee camps at "Kakuma and Dadaab hardly provide the kind of safe refuge implied by the notion of asylum." The report stated that "security incidents involving death and serious injury take place on a daily basis," and warned that the level of violence in Kenya's refugee camps "appears to be on the rise."

Many refugees concurred that poor security was their greatest concern. Refugees suffered murders, robberies, and rapes from armed bandits and foreign militia men who routinely raided Kenya's border areas, as well as violence at the hands of other refugees.

Reported sexual assaults declined from 164 in 1998 to 71 in 1999, but other crime in refugee camps remained at previously reported levels, and many sexual crimes went unreported. One study concluded that sexual assaults at Dadaab refugee sites occurred 75 times more frequently than at other locations in Kenya with similar population sizes.

"Armed bandits often operate with impunity" in Kenya's refugee areas, UNHCR stated. Insecurity in Kenya's neighboring countries "has enabled criminals to acquire weapons that are used against refugees and Kenyan citizens alike," UNHCR reported.

Despite UNHCR efforts throughout the 1990s to strengthen Kenyan police in refugee zones, local police lacked the training, discipline, and numbers needed to protect the refugee population, according to observers.

UNHCR installed security fencing around refugee camps using local bushes that provided partial but not complete security. A U.S. government-funded program to purchase firewood for refugee families helped protect refugee women and girls from dangerous forays into isolated areas in search of firewood. The program, however, supplied only one-third of families' firewood needs.

The evaluation study commissioned by UNHCR, entitled "A State of Insecurity: The Political Economy of Violence in Refugee-Populated Areas of Kenya," pointed to insufficient numbers of UNHCR protection staff in Kenya in 1999.

"It must be acknowledged that UNHCR may not have always given sufficient attention to protection and security issues in Kakuma and Dadaab," the report concluded. The study stressed that the Kenyan government possessed ultimate responsibility for refugees' security.

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 gradually returned to Somalia, but continued instability there has prevented the remaining Somali refugees from going home.

Some 20,000 new Somali refugees fled to Kenya during 1999 because of continued insecurity and food shortages in Somalia. No significant repatriation occurred from Kenya to Somalia during the year. Nearly 1,000 refugees scheduled to return home to northern Somalia by air in December were unable to repatriate because of disagreements between UNHCR and Somali officials.

The overwhelming majority of Somali refugees lived in the Dadaab camps near the Kenya-Somalia border. The camps' location in a barren, isolated region has complicated aid efforts because of the need for costly road repairs and security precautions.

The refugees were entirely dependent on humanitarian aid – only about 15 percent of refugee families had other sources of income. UNHCR budget constraints forced continued cutbacks in several services, including secondary education, vocational education, and training in income-generation activities.

Somali refugees also faced many protection problems (see above). Six refugees were found tied to trees and shot dead near a Dadaab-area camp in January. Violence in response to the killings left more than 20 people seriously injured and destroyed 90 refugee homes.

Government authorities closed an "unofficial" camp during the year inhabited by Somali refugees near the coastal city of Mombasa and transported about 500 camp residents to Kakuma on the other side of the country, a two-day trip by road. Kenyan officials threatened to detain and deport up to 2,000 other Somali refugees who refused to transfer from Mombasa to Kakuma.

Kenyan police mounted a round-up of 2,000 refugees and other foreigners in Mombasa in August. A similar police sweep in Nairobi in August-September detained 600 persons. After UNHCR intervened, the government transported detained refugees to camps in Kakuma and Dadaab and did not forcibly return them to Somalia, aid workers reported.

After armed Somali militia raided a Kenyan military outpost mid-year, Kenya officially closed its border with Somalia to "curb smuggling of contraband goods into the country" and to stop "criminal activities," including "proliferation of firearms," according to local media reports. Although the border remained closed at year's end, the government stated that it would allow entry by genuine refugees. UNHCR reported that the border closure did not appear to impede refugees' entry into the country.

Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi urged UNHCR during the year to repatriate the Somali refugee population. He publicly blamed the refugees for crime and arms smuggling, and said the refugees had "abused their local hosts."

Refugees from Sudan

Some 15,000 new Sudanese refugees fled to Kenya during 1999, joining about 50,000 who were already in the country. The number of Sudanese refugees in Kenya has virtually doubled in the past two years as Sudan's civil war and ethnic violence raged on.

About 62,000 Sudanese lived in three Kakuma camps in northwest Kenya, about 75 miles (125 km) from the Sudan border. About 1,000 lived in eastern Kenya's Dadaab camps. The rest lived in urban areas.

Tensions among the Sudanese refugees at Kakuma have erupted into violence repeatedly in recent years, including in 1999. In January, disagreements between ethnic Dinka and ethnic Didinga refugees sparked violence with swords and spears that left six refugees dead, several hundred injured, and 450 refugee homes burned. The destruction temporarily uprooted 6,500 refugees.

UNHCR redoubled efforts to foster reconciliation within the divided refugee population and attempted to strengthen women's groups in hopes of enhancing protection for refugee women.

Aid workers have regularly charged that Sudanese rebel groups impose "taxes" on Sudanese in Kakuma and that the rebels conscript young male refugees into their ranks. UNHCR officially stated that it received no reports of conscription in 1999, but an unofficial evaluation by UNHCR in October concluded that Kakuma camps remained "strongly influenced by" the main Sudan rebel force.

"There is little doubt that the Sudan People's Liberation Army (the rebel force) regularly recruits, or conscripts, soldiers from the refugee population at Kakuma," the report stated.

Ethiopian and Other Refugees

A new wave of Ethiopian refugees and asylum seekers arrived in Kenya during 1999, joining several thousand long-time Ethiopian refugees who fled to Kenya many years earlier.

Kenya hosted some 5,000 Ethiopian refugees at the start of 1999. They were remnants of a much larger refugee population who fled to Kenya during 1991-92.

More than 1,000 of these long-time refugees repatriated during 1999. Most returned to the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia. UNHCR provided the returnees with air transportation to Ethiopia and grants of up to $100 per person.

Some 20,000 refugees and asylum seekers entered Kenya during 1999 because of alleged persecution in Ethiopia, including charges of government detention and forced conscription. Most of the new arrivals were ethnic Oromos. They charged that Ethiopian government agents continued to attack them in Kenya.

"The insecurity for Oromo refugees in...Kakuma and at large in the capital, Nairobi, is greater than it has ever been," a public statement by Oromo leaders contended. They claimed that some 55,000 Ethiopian asylum seekers were living in Nairobi.

UNHCR accorded formal refugee recognition to about 4,000 of the 20,000 new Ethiopian arrivals by year's end. The rest were either rejected or still awaited final determination of their refugee status.

Kenya hosted about 10,000 refugees from various other countries during 1999, including at least 5,000 from Uganda, 3,000 from Rwanda, and about 700 others. About 200 Ugandan refugees repatriated after many years in Kenya.

UNHCR completed its screening of Rwandan asylum seekers at the end of 1998, but the Kenyan government's review of nearly 2,000 of these cases remained incomplete at the end of 1999. UNHCR recognized 3,000 Rwandans as refugees. Some 1,000 Rwandans applied for refugee status in 1999, but UNHCR rejected or closed most of the new cases when many applicants failed to appear for status determination interviews. About 120 Rwandan refugees departed Kenya with international assistance to resettle abroad.

Internally Displaced Kenyans

Violence displaced up to 400,000 people in western, eastern, and northern Kenya during the 1990s. Credible evidence suggested that government officials fanned the violence in western and eastern regions for political gain at the expense of political opponents.

Although major political violence did not erupt again in 1999, many people remained displaced throughout the year.

In mid-1999, the Kenyan government's "Presidential Commission on the Ethnic Clashes" concluded nearly a year of hearings into Kenya's violent population displacements throughout the 1990s. Witnesses at the hearings routinely accused local politicians of complicity in the violence. The Commission had not released its findings by year's end.

In November, Kenya's President Moi urged displaced families in the west to return home and promised them "maximum security." The president called on local officials to return uprooted families to their farms "within a week," and warned local politicians to guard against "inflammatory" rhetoric. Few, if any, displaced families returned home.

The independent Kenyan Human Rights Commission dismissed the president's declaration as a "political gimmick" and warned that the potential for renewed unrest was "quite high." Another local human rights organization stated that Kenya's displaced families were reluctant to return home because "they still fear that incitement could recur, and...since the same [local] officers are still in charge, there are no security guarantees."

Some uprooted families have permanently lost their land, according to local analysts. Many displaced landowners have surrendered their land title documents under duress, and the government has subsequently nationalized some land left vacated after the violence.

Although most families displaced by the earlier violence had not regained their land by the end of 1999, a large proportion were no longer counted as displaced. Many were attempting to resume their lives at other locations. Some received food aid and grants for school fees from local donors.

Areas of northern Kenya suffered scattered violence in 1999, primarily linked to local tensions over land use and clashes between Ethiopian rebels and Ethiopian government troops that spilled into Kenyan territory. Some families reportedly fled their homes temporarily because of the violence.

Kenyan Returnees

Thousands of Kenyans fled to Ethiopia in 1993 because of local communal violence and banditry in northern Kenya.

Plans to repatriate the 5,000 remaining refugees in 1999 encountered unexpected problems in November when Kenyan authorities blocked the refugees' return home at the last minute. Government officials questioned whether the refugees were Kenyan citizens and complained that Ethiopian officials had prevented Kenyan authorities from inspecting the refugees' camp in southern Ethiopia. Persistent ethnic tensions in northern Kenya might also have prompted the government to delay the repatriation, according to some sources.

The aborted repatriation forced 600 refugees in 14 trucks to return to their camps in Ethiopia.


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