UNHCR position on the directive by the Kenyan Government on the relocation of refugees from the urban centres to the refugee camps

Briefing Notes, 25 January 2013

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 25 January 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR has been in urgent consultations with the Government since December, when the Government of Kenya announced a directive immediately discontinuing the reception and registration of asylum-seekers in Nairobi and other urban areas and for them to all be relocated to the refugee camps.

UNHCR expressed its serious concerns about the impact of the policy from the protection, human rights and humanitarian point of view. In particular, the lives, education and livelihood of thousands of refugees who have settled and lived lawfully in the urban centres for years would be severely disrupted. UNHCR called on the Government not to implement the new directive.

The Government however made clear its determination to go ahead with the enforcement of the policy. UNHCR has since been working to ensure that any such implementation would be properly managed, consistent with essential refugee protection and humanitarian principles and would avoid human suffering. The Government subsequently established an Inter-Ministerial Committee establish how these principals would be assured in implementing the new policy.

When news broke last weekend that a security operation to round up refugees in Nairobi and relocate them to the camps was imminent, UNHCR expressed its concerns to the Government and urged against such an operation being launched.

The Government has since provided assurances that a round-up would not take place and reiterated its readiness to work with UNHCR to ensure that refugee protection principles would be respected. Meanwhile, on 22 January, in an application brought by two refugee rights NGOs, the High Court of Kenya issued an injunction temporarily halting any action to implement the relocation direction pending a full hearing on the matter.

UNHCR is sustaining its efforts with the Government to ensure that in any implementation of the new directive, refugees and asylum-seekers would not be put in harm's way or their vital protection and human rights transgressed as unfortunately often happens in operations of this nature and scale.

UNHCR also hopes that the Organization's urban refugee policy that has been supported by the Kenyan Government as the best way forward for refugees who are able to fend for themselves and participate in the development of their host communities will remain in effect. This policy underlines that cities are legitimate and critical places for refugees to reside and exercise the rights to which they are entitled.

There are currently 56,000 asylum seekers and refugees registered with UNHCR in Nairobi and other urban centres in Kenya. The largest segment of this group is made up of Somalis (33,844) followed by Ethiopians (10,568) and nationals from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (7,046). A minority comes from Eritrea, South Sudan and the Great Lakes.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Kenya (Nairobi): Emmanuel Nyabera on mobile +254 733 995 975
  • In Geneva, Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483
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UNHCR country pages

Urban Refugees

More than half the refugees UNHCR serves now live in urban areas

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Dire Times in Dadaab

Angelina Jolie's visit to Dadaab in north-east Kenya puts a spotlight on the overcrowded camp complex, home to tens of thousands of refugees.

When UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited Dadaab in north-east Kenya on September 12, 2009, she saw first-hand some of the tough conditions that tens of thousands of refugees must live in. The overcrowded three-camp complex is home to more than 285,000 mainly Somali refugees, making it the largest refugee settlement in the world. The camps were established in the early 1990s and were intended for a maximum of 90,000 people. Up to 7,000 people are now arriving every month to escape continuing conflict in Somalia. Jolie talked to residents about their daily life and their exile. These images show her meetings with the refugees of Dadaab and show some of the conditions they live in. Aside from overcrowding, they face water shortages, crammed classrooms, health problems, the coming rainy season and a range of other difficulties. UNHCR hopes new land will be allocated soon for the new arrivals.

Dire Times in Dadaab

Running out of space: Somali refugees in Kenya

The three camps at Dadaab, which were designed for 90,000 people, now have a population of about 250,000 Somali civilians, making it one of the world's largest and most congested refugee sites. UNHCR fears tens of thousands more will arrive throughout 2009 in this remote corner of north-east Kenya as the situation in their troubled country deteriorates further.

Resources, such as food and water, have been stretched dangerously thin in the overcrowded camps, with sometimes 400 families sharing one tap. There is no room to erect additional tents and the new arrivals are forced to share already crowded shelters with other refugees.

In early 2009, the Kenyan government agreed to allocate more land at Dadaab to accommodate some 50,000 refugees. View photos showing conditions in Dadaab in December 2008.

Running out of space: Somali refugees in Kenya

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In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.
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Kenya: Hawa's Dilemma

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Kenya: A Helping HandPlay video

Kenya: A Helping Hand

Heightened insecurity in the world's largest refugee camp has brought about a change among the refugee communities.