UNHCR Kicks-off World Refugee Day Activities with a Debate on Refugee Contribution to the Local Economy

Showcasing of items made by refugees supported by Danish Refugee Council and Heshima Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya – As the world prepares to mark World Refugee Day on 20 June 2017, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR Kenya has started hosting events and activities.

World Refugee Day is an opportunity to remember that there are over 65 million refugees and displaced persons around the world, who are forced to flee their homes because of war, conflict, and persecution. We acknowledge and celebrate their strength, courage and tenacity.

Kenya is one of the countries at the centre of the refugee and displacement crisis. Kenya hosts nearly ½ a million refugees (490,656).

UNHCR Kenya kicked off the World Refugee Day activities with a week-long exhibition in Nairobi.

Refugees in Kenya’s capital will be showcasing and selling their products throughout the week (14 June 2017 – 20 June 2017) at Alliance Française, the French Cultural Centre.

The products being sold include handmade items such as bags, jewellery, paintings, African wear, carvings and other creative handicrafts made by about thirty refugees and Kenyan exhibitors who are supported by UNHCR.

The exhibition clearly depicts the efforts of refugees to be self-sufficient by earning a livelihood from their skills and talents.

While speaking at the opening event, UNHCR’s Assistant Representative (Protection) Ms. Catherine Hamon Sharpe reiterated the need for refugees to be self-sufficient and emphasised how this in itself can be a protection tool for them.

“Some studies have shown that only 3% of urban refugees are reliant on assistance from UNHCR.” She was speaking during an event themed, ‘Get to know refugees- their capacities and contribution to the local economy’. By the end of May, UNHCR had a registered population of 67,267 urban refugees and asylum seekers – 14% of the total refugee population in Kenya.

While referring to Kalobeyei, a settlement where refugees and the host community receive some public services together, in Turkana County, Kenya, Ms. Catherine pointed out that UNHCR was keen on changing refugee assistance models, with the help of the government of Kenya and development partners.

One of the panelists, Prof Peter Kagwanja pointed out that “When a person is uprooted from where they used to make meaningful contribution to their families, and communities and by the time they cross the border, they are the poorest of the poor,” he said. “They are economically deprived.”


Scarfs from the 'Maisha Collectives' by UNHCR Partner Heshima Kenya. The scarf making project is a livelihood project for the Heshima Kenya girls. UNHCR/M.Ndubi


A beautiful African bag which is on sale at the exhibition.


African inspired bags on dispalaye


Some of the creative Jewellery currently on sale at Alliance Francaise, Nairobi.


Showcasing of items made by refugees supported by Danish Refugee Council and Heshima Kenya


Showcasing of items made by refugees supported by Danish Refugee Council and Heshima Kenya


Showcasing of items made by refugees supported by Danish Refugee Council and Heshima Kenya


The Anyuak Community from Gambella entertaining the attendees during the event.


Prof. Peter Kagwanja and fellow panelists discussing the day's topic i.e. refugees contribution to the local economy.


A henna artist at the venue. She makes a living through drawing henna art and she is part of the Artists for Refugees Livelihoods project


Paintings and more African inspired items for sale at the exhibition


Dennis Adhoch from Danish Refugee Council presents the 'Pamoja Collective' online marketing platform for items made by refugees

Another panelist Mr. Wilmont Reeves, Economics Advisor of UNDP emphasised the need for strong regional institutions to ensure stability and proper policies that recognize the refugee issue as a development issue. “Refugee issues should be integrated in development plans of the host country,” he said. “The UN system should also mainstream refugee issues in their programmes as part of planning.”

A partnership between UNHCR and the Kenya Chamber of Commerce has seen the refugee business community benefit from information on market linkages, sensitization forums and information on existing business opportunities.

Currently, a draft MOU between UNHCR and the Chamber of Commerce is being discussed regarding partnership of working together on how they can support refugee businesses.

“We will set up refugee desk at the Chambers’ county and national chapters to specifically deal with refugee business issues.” Said Elkanah Epiche, Chairman of Chamber of Commerce Kajiado County.

Refugee, Foni Joyce emphasized the need for information sharing with refugees so as to ensure they benefit fully and live comfortable lives. She also asserted that refugees are people with skills and capabilities who have been forced by circumstances to leave their home countries. “We would all love to go back home eventually,” she said.

In February this year, the World Bank in collaboration with UNHCR launched a report on Kakuma which showed that refugees greatly contribute to the economy of Turkana County. The report, ‘Yes in my Backyard?” the economics of refugees and their social dynamics in Kakuma, Kenya’ provided an original analysis of the economic and social impact of refugees in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp on their Turkana hosts. The report came at an opportune time and resonates with governments and policy makers beyond Kenya’s borders.

UNHCR continues to work with implementing partners to promote refugee livelihoods and overall protection of refugees.

Speaking on behalf of all the partners, Mrs. Angote of Kituo cha Sheria, a legal advisory for refugees, encouraged the partners saying “Without you we cannot be the voice of this vulnerable group. We are all part of a human family.”

The day’s event culminated with the launch of ‘Pamoja Collectives’ by UNHCR livelihoods partner Danish Refugee Council. ‘Pamoja Collectives’ is a Facebook marketing tool that enables consumers to buy products produced by refugees.