The Kenya refugee operation will continue to be marked by the political developments and humanitarian situation in the region, mainly in its two main refugee producing countries i.e. Somalia and South Sudan. In Somalia, despite the moderate gains made in the past three years, the humanitarian situation in 2020 is expected to remain fragile, with over some 24.2 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Majority of refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya originate from Somalia (54%). Other major nationalities are South Sudanese (24.6%), Congolese (9%); Ethiopians (5.8%). Persons of concern from other nationalities including Sudan, Rwanda, Eritrea, Burundi, Uganda and others make up 6.8 % of the total population (508,033 as of the end of January 2021). Almost half of the refugees in Kenya (44%) reside in Dadaab, 40% in Kakuma and 16% in urban areas (mainly Nairobi), alongside 18,500 stateless persons.
Political developments and the humanitarian situation in the region will continue to impact upon the Kenya Operation in 2020, mainly as a result of the situations in the two countries; Somalia and South Sudan, but also the ongoing unrest in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). It is anticipated that the political situation in Ethiopia will remain stable. Currently, Kenya continues to be among the top refugee hosting countries in Africa. UNHCR continued advocacy on behalf of stateless persons is expected to result in the Government of Kenya (GOK) registering 4,500 Shona people in 2020 and 4,000 Pemba people in 2021, thus reducing stateless persons to 15,000 in 2020 and 11,000 in 2021.
Since late 2013, the security situation in Kenya was adversely affected following several terrorist attacks for which the Somalia-based Al Shabaab group claimed responsibility. It was agreed that more should be done in Somalia to make return and reintegration sustainable. A conference was held in Brussels in October 2015 to seek support for the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees and their reintegration in Somalia.
85,067 Somalis have been assisted by UNHCR and partners to voluntarily return to Somalia between December 2014 and 31 December 2019. In addition, 76 Ethiopian refugees returned home from Kenya In 2020, 11 in 2019 and a further 4,000 are expected to follow this year, out of a total of around 28,500 Ethiopian refugees in Kenya.
Voluntary repatriation will continue in 2020 for Somalis and other nationalities, if the situation permits in the countries of origin.
The 6 May 2016 decision by the Government of Kenya to close Dadaab camps and disband the Department for Refugee Affairs (DRA) significantly impacted the overall operational environment in Dadaab. The Government cited security, environmental and economic burdens as the reason for this decision. An initial deadline for the closure of Dadaab established by the Government on 30 November 2016, led to anxiety amongst the refugees and international community. However, the establishment Refugee Affairs Secretariat has seen the government of Kenya take on more roles in refugee management that include registration of asylum seekers and Refugee Status Determination.
Following a meeting of the joint task force overseeing the repatriation in November 2017, the Government of Kenya extended the deadline by six months while continuing to maintain that the returns would be conducted in a safe and humane manner under the auspices of the Tripartite Agreement (2013).
The review of the Refugee Act 2006 and the finalization of a National Refugee Policy is ongoing with the support of members of the Kenya Parliamentary Human Rights Association (KEPHRA). Great progress was made in 2019 with the draft bill being presented on two occasions to the National Parliament. UNHCR will continue to provide input through the established legal mechanisms and work with national partners in order to ensure that refugee policy is in line with international law and statutes.
Meanwhile, asylum fatigue and the security situation dominate the discussions. It is however expected that the new bill will show improvements in terms of refugee’s participation in economic life and interactions with the host communities.
The operation works with the assumption that the situation in Central and Southern Somalia will continue to allow voluntary repatriation and reintegration with no major further deterioration. For these reasons, the planning figure for voluntary return to Somalia is 7,000 in 2020. However, the current COVID-19 pandemic has affected the voluntary repatriation programme and no assisted returns to Somalia have happened in 2020. It is also expected to see, in the course of 2020 more than 30,000 new arrivals. The majority of these new arrivals will be from DRC, Burundi, and South Sudan. This assumption is based on the geopolitical situation in the regional and trends. Considering the current capacity of the operation to process resettlement cases, it is projected that about 4465 refugees, will be proposed for resettlement in 2020.
The verification exercise was completed in Dadaab, Kakuma, and Nairobi. The exercise will also be conducted in other urban sites (a first for the operation). The verification exercise will allow to confirm the actual population of concern in Kenya and enhance protection and programme solutions.
The UNHCR Kenya Operation data and figures can be found here.