Statelessness in Kenya

Kenya currently hosts an estimated 9,800 stateless persons following the Government’s decision to grant Kenyan citizenship to some 7,000 members of the Pemba community in 2023. Other communities that have been recognized and registered as Kenyan citizens in recent years include 1,500 members of the Makonde community, 1,650 members of the Shona community, 10 people of Rwandan descent, and 52 people of Asian origin. This progress highlights Kenya’s commitment to eradicating statelessness in the country.

The remaining stateless populations in Kenya include the Rundi community, persons of Rwandan origin, and individuals of Asian descent. Other groups at risk of statelessness are the Nubians, persons from the Nyasa and Pare communities in the coastal areas, and the Galje’el and Sagaf communities who reside in the Tana River area, as well as people of Kenyan Cushitic and Somali descent who face challenges accessing birth registration and identity documentation. The members of these communities “belong” to Kenya because of the existing and longstanding ties with the country, though a yet they do not have Kenyan citizenship.

The Government of Kenya’s commitment

In October 2019, the Government of Kenya committed, through seven pledges at the High-Level Segment on Statelessness, to accede to the two UN statelessness conventions, complete legal reforms to address and remedy statelessness and to recognize and register members of the Shona community. During the Global refugee Forum held in December 2023, Kenya reaffirmed its commitment by submitting five pledges aimed at accelerating progress on eradication of statelessness by 2027, including:

  • Review, update, and validate the draft National Action Plan to Eradicate Statelessness, followed by its implementation, by 2027.
  • Recognize and register as Kenyan citizens members of stateless communities, such as the Rundi, Rwanda and other stateless persons who may not have been identified and who qualify for citizenship under the law, by 2027.
  • Complete legal reforms to address and remedy statelessness by amending the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act, 2011 by deleting sections 15(2), 16(2) and 17(2) to remove the time limitation for registration of stateless persons and migrants, by 2024.
  • Accede to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, by 2027.

UNHCR works in close cooperation with relevant departments within the Ministry of the Interior and National Administration, including the Directorate of Immigration Services, the Civil Registration Services, and the National Registration Bureau, along with the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics and various civil society organizations, to address and prevent statelessness in the country. UNHCR provides technical advice and support to the Government to implement statelessness programmes, including advocacy for amendments to legislation to provide a legal framework for the registration of the remaining stateless communities in Kenya.

Birth registration

Birth registration is a preventive mechanism that ensures children are issued with a birth certificate as an identity document to ensure access to their rights and to national protection.

UNHCR works to raise awareness on statelessness in Kenya through media, community forums and sensitization of relevant stakeholders, with the aim of resolving situations of statelessness and improving access to Kenyan documentation, particularly birth certificates and national ID cards, to prevent children from being undocumented and at risk of statelessness. UNHCR collaborates with the Civil Registration Services to support mobile birth registration in refugee-hosting areas and in areas where stateless persons and persons at risk of statelessness reside.