Durable solutions for refugees are voluntary repatriation to the country of origin in safety and dignity, resettlement to a third country and local integration in the country of asylum.
1. Voluntary Repatriation
Kenya has been giving an outstanding example to other countries by hosting a high number of refugees for over two decades and is currently the second largest receiving African country, after Ethiopia. Refugee figures remain high and the context in the region volatile. The Government of Kenya, as well as UNHCR, considers that voluntary repatriation of refugees is the most desirable solution when conditions for voluntary repatriation in the country of origin are met.
Voluntary repatriation shall be understood as the free and voluntary return to one’s country of origin in safety and dignity. It is the solution of choice for a vast majority of refugees. In a returnee situation, this implies the restoration of national protection to obviate the need for international protection and, through the reintegration process, the ability to maintain sustainable livelihoods, access basic services and fully reintegrate into communities and countries of origin.
As stated above, refugees who opted to repatriate have to do it on a voluntary basis and be previously informed. It is key to ensure that refugees, when making the decision of returning to their country of origin, are doing it without external pressures or lacking relevant information on the prevailing security conditions in the Country of Origin. Otherwise, the voluntary repatriation will not be sustainable and refugees will be crossing again the international border to seek protection in Kenya.
When necessary, the Government shall pursue efforts to establish a legal framework for voluntary repatriation through Tripartite Agreements with the Government of the country of origin and UNHCR to facilitate the process of voluntary repatriation of refugees who will opt to voluntarily return to their country. The process of drafting such tripartite agreements shall include representatives from NGOs- in both countries- and from the refugee community.
The Government, through the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, shall take all steps to ensure that the process of voluntary repatriation will be conducted in safety and dignity, as per the relevant Conventions, including the 1969 OAU Convention and respecting fully the terms of the Tripartite Agreement signed. A Tripartite Agreement was signed In November 2013, between the Governments of Somalia, Kenya and UNHCR. In December 2014, the first group of refugees had voluntarily repatriated. Currently, 9 areas in Somalia have been selected as places where refugees could decide to voluntarily return, including the capital of Somalia where they will benefit from reintegration assistance. Refugees may opt to repatriate elsewhere in Somalia however they will not be entitled to the reintegration assistance as UNHCR and its partners are not present on the ground.
A Tripartite Agreement, shall provide for but not be limited to:
- Procedures by which a refugee shall make an application for voluntary repatriation;
- The procedures for surrender of any travel documents, identity cards, permits or any other documents which he/she acquired by virtue of being a refugee;
- Procedures on the fair and adequate compensation on immovable property acquired during their asylum in accordance with any written law;
- Procedures enabling the returnee to take away any movable properties acquired during asylum in accordance with any written law;
- Cross border coordination and monitoring returnees.
Relatives of refugees, who opted for voluntary return, will keep their refugee status until they will also voluntarily opt to repatriate.
Refugees may also decide to return spontaneously, without taking advantage of the framework established by the Tripartite Agreement.
Since the beginning of the pilot project to support spontaneous returns to Somalia in December 2014 close to 83,000 Somali refugees have been assisted to return home. Most refugees have returned to Baidoa, Kismayo and Mogadishu. Returns by air also started in August 2015 to Mogadishu and five other locations. In 2019, the planning figure for voluntary returns to Somalia is 10,000.
Resettlement involves the identification and transfer of refugees from a State in which they have sought protection to a third State which has agreed to admit them – as refugees – with permanent residence status. Resettlement is regulated by strict criteria, policies and processes and can only benefit a very small percentage of the refugee population (about 1% per year).
Resettlement, being one of the three durable solutions available to refugees, is pursued by UNHCR for eligible individuals while considering the other solutions as well. Refugees do not have a right to be resettled to a third country. The final decision to accept a refugee for resettlement is taken by the authorities of this country of resettlement and not by UNHCR.
To know more about resettlement, please read our FAQ.
3. Local Integration
National authorities responsible to deal with refugees are encouraged to promote the implementation of measures to facilitate the local integration of refugees in the country of asylum. In Kenya, only about 11% of the refugee population is living in urban areas where they have access to more opportunities to develop and become self-sustainable, thus contributing to the host country, instead of becoming dependent on humanitarian aid.
The majority of refugees worldwide are living in urban areas therefore, their integration into the host communities and their contribution to the asylum country is of paramount importance. National legislations have to provide effective access to basic rights for refugees, as established in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol of 1967. Among others, work permit to access the labour market; facilities to establish small business and self-employment activities (paying taxes as a result of these activities); access to alternative legal status to apply for permanent residency; once refugees fulfil the criteria defined by national laws regulating these matters. Ultimately, the 1951 Convention and its Protocol provide in, its article 34, a provision establishing that Contracting States (Kenya is Party to the Convention) shall as far as possible facilitate the integration and naturalization of refugees.
In Kenya, the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government shall be responsible for the establishment of criteria to enable local integration of refugees, in line with the Constitution (2010) and any other written laws in Kenya. The process of local integration should be progressive and gradual. It implies that refugees will have access to an alternative legal status, in accordance with the criteria established by Kenyan laws. Subsequently (if they desire so), they will be able to apply for naturalization, in accordance with the criteria set-up in relevant national laws. (Constitution, Arts. 14 (4)) and 15 (1) and (2) as well as the Citizenship and Immigration Act of 2011, arts. 11, 13 , 36 and 37).
It is considered that a refugee is fully integrated into the asylum country when he or she becomes a citizen through naturalization or, when she or he enjoys a legal status that provide for effective access to socio-economic and civil fundamental rights.
UNHCR and its main Government counterpart, the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, are exploring concrete ways to gradually transform the current Kenyan encampment policy towards a policy of settlement options in designated areas. This will facilitate economic, social and legal integration with the host community; and will guarantee the development of remote areas such as Garissa and Turkana Counties. One such policy is the Kalobeyei Integrated Socio-Economic Plan (KISEDP) for Turkana West launched in 2018. The policy will benefit the host community in the long-term, once refugees have been successfully integrated, or found another durable solution (voluntary repatriation or resettlement).
The Government both at national and county levels shall endeavor to attain “Development through Local Integration” for refugees in recognition of the fact that refugees can be agents of development. Thus various means and opportunities will ideally have to be sought to ensure that refugees and local host communities integrate economically, politically, socially and that any support meant for either is enjoyed by both.
To achieve the above, the Government shall endeavour to:
- Avail resources especially land to refugees;
- Ensure that refugees access work permits and can work anywhere within Kenya, in accordance with the country’s existing labour laws
- Mobilize resources both internally and externally to support local integration
- Take measures to ensure a harmonious co-existence between the refugees and the host community
- Coordinate the process of local integration among government agencies and with other stakeholders, including local communities
- Facilitate the acquisition of Kenya citizenship by Registration notably through a reduction of the fees.