Birth registration drive combats statelessness among Kenya’s coastal Pemba community

“Birth registration is important because it’s the first step in ending statelessness in the country.”

Nasoro (holding birth notification for his 10 year old son) joins the queue to the civil registration desks for authentication and endorsement of his application. For stateless communities, it will take at least two weeks for verification and issuance of birth certificates.
© UNHCR/Caroline Opile

It’s Saturday morning in Vanga, Kwale County, on the Kenya coast. A mobile birth registration exercise is going on in a local community hall. Hundreds of parents have shown up with their children.

Fakii Nasoro is here with his wife and 6 children. He’s desperate to register their births, and get birth certificates issued, to make sure they don’t, like him, become stateless. That means having no nationality.

Even though Fakii and his parents were born in Kenya, they’ve been denied citizenship. Fakii’s ancestors originally came from neighboring Tanzania in the 1930s to work.

Kenya was under British colonial rule. When Kenya became independent in 1963, Fakii’s family, like many originally from abroad, didn’t register their presence with the new post-independence government. The mistake from decades ago, has rendered them stateless today.

He’s desperate to register their births, and get birth certificates issued, to make sure they don’t, like him, become stateless.

Having no nationality has had a dreadful impact on Fakii’s life and that of his family. Statelessness means Fakii can’t open a bank account, buy land or property, or even register a mobile phone sim card, because he has no official ID or nationality. His children are denied access to education, can’t see a doctor, and can’t access many other important rights, because they don’t have birth certificates.


“We have a lot of problems, if you don’t have an ID, you cannot move around easily. If you have an ID you can register and join self-help groups, you can get a loan. In the past police raids would occur and we would be forced to run and hide in the forest with our children. We were afraid of what we would happen to us as we have no IDs.” Says Fakii Nasoro, Stateless Person.

The problem is under Kenyan law nationality is by descent. A person can try to register to be a national, but there are no clear administrative procedures to follow. And stateless people don’t meet the requirements to apply.

There are more than 4000 stateless Pemba. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency in Kenya, works with local NGO called the Haki Centre to lobby the government to resolve the problem, and recognize the Pemba and other groups as nationals.


Rahma Fakii, 7 month old daughter to Mr. Nasoro. She remains stateless like her parents as she can no longer qualify for late registration. Only children under 6 months can qualify for late registration through notifications received from the local administration/sub chief of the respective sub-location or location. UNHCR/C.Opile


It’s a buzz of activity at the social hall in Vanga ward, Kwale County as women and men present documents for birth registration for their children, at the mobile birth registration exercise organized by Haki Centre in collaboration with Government of Kenya and UNHCR. The registration exercise was free of charge. UNHCR/C.Opile


Nasoro with two of his youngest children, his 7 month old daughter Rahma Fakii and 4 year old son, Omar Fakii. UNHCR/C.Opile


Salim Fakii, 10 year old son to Mr. Nasoro shares a meal with his siblings during the lunch break from school. He is the only one in a family of 6 children that was issued with birth notification, which guarantees issuance of birth registration for children. UNHCR/C.Opile


Saki Faki Shame waits for assistance from Haki Centre paralegals to fill in her application for birth registration.


Parents of children applying for birth registration present their documents to Haki Centre (human rights group working with stateless and vulnerable persons) for initial verification before presenting the documents to the civil registrar. UNHCR/C.Opile


Saki Faki walks to the registration Centre from her home in Mugera estate, Vanga ward where most of the stateless families reside. The surrounding area is dotted by fishing nets, their main source of livelihood being fishing.

Getting birth certificates issued for the children of stateless people is an important step to guarding them against statelessness and ensuring that one day they might get citizenship.

“Birth registration is important because it’s the first step in ending statelessness in the country. If you look at a child that has a birth certificate compared to one that doesn’t have a birth certificate, chances are it will be easier to help the child that has birth certificate, acquire citizenship.” Explains Andrew Ochola, Program Officer, Haki Centre.

Another problem is that stateless people usually face discrimination in hospitals where their children are born, because they are unable to produce Kenyan IDs.

Another issue is that birth registration exercises mainly take place in hard to reach urban areas, that the stateless Pemba can’t access, as they tend to live in remote areas. The challenges are compounded by high levels of illiteracy and lack of awareness.

“Birth registration is important because it’s the first step in ending statelessness in the country.”

Despite the challenges, UNHCR in conjunction with Haki Centre has helped more than 11,000 children of stateless people in Kenya get their births registered in the last 3 years.

The Kenya government says its doing what it can to help the Pemba community gain nationality. It recently granted nationality to the Makonde, originally from Mozambique.

“The Government has come in; we started issuing the ID cards to the Makonde community. Even the issue of Shirazi community is being worked on. I am very sure that even in the near future the Pemba will be vetted and issued with the documents. The government is really trying its level best. I am very sure something is being brewed.”

But stateless people say much more needs to be done. They want laws to be changed to make it easier for them to access citizenship.

UNHCR’s #IBelong global campaign to end statelessness is trying to raise awareness of the plight of the Pemba and other stateless people in Kenya, and around the world through the just released ‘Stateless Minorities’ report.

Its estimated that there are at least another 14,000 stateless people in Kenya seeking nationality who need help.