Somali refugees in Kenya & Ethiopia

Source: ICMC Europe, Welcome to Europe! A comprehensive guide to resettlement, 2013

Kenya and Ethiopia currently host 492,046 and 240,086 Somali refugees, respectively. The majority of these fled following the 1991 collapse of the Somali government and the ensuing civil war and humanitarian crisis. In 2011, Somali refugee arrivals into Kenya and Ethiopia increased significantly due to the combined effects of drought, famine and ongoing insecurity in Somalia.

In Kenya, refugees registered by UNHCR live in camps. Nearly half a million are located in Dadaab refugee camp, originally designed to accommodate not more than 160,000 refugees but which now constitutes a small ‘camp-city’, and a further 101,000 in Kakuma camp. Approximately 96% of all refugees in Dadaab are Somali. Following famine and renewed conflict in the region in 2011, over 100,000 new refugees flooded into the camp, and the region has been hit by a series of major security incidents ranging from the kidnapping of aid workers to IED25 explosions.

At the end of 2012, over 33,000 persons were registered as urban refugees in Nairobi in Kenya. In December 2012, Kenya’s Department of Refugee Affairs announced that all asylum seekers and refugees from Somalia living in Kenya’s urban areas should move to Dadaab, and that all refugee registration in urban areas should cease. NGOs have since reported many cases of police harassment, arbitrary arrest, abuse against women and xenophobic attacks.

Ethiopia was the main destination country for Somali refugees during 2012. This is despite the fact that the Ethiopian government requires all refugees to reside in camps. Since 2007, six new refugee camps have opened to accommodate the growing Somali refugee population in Ethiopia, and the country’s Dollo Ado camp has since become the world’s second largest refugee complex after Dadaab.

On June 5 2013, the Kenyan and Somali governments announced an agreement on voluntary repatriation for Somali refugees in Kenya. The agreement is for a tripartite conference to take place in August 2013 to plan repatriation measures and mechanisms, together with the participation of UNHCR. While both civil society organisations and UNHCR have welcomed the availability of voluntary repatriation for Somali refugees who wish to return, they have also strongly cautioned against large-scale refugee returns given the highly insecure nature of many areas of Somalia. At the time of writing, no official plans for the August conference or for repatriation measures more generally have been announced by either government.

Prospects for local integration are highly limited. While both Kenya and Ethiopia are signatories to the 1951 Convention, its 1967 protocol and the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention, they both impose restrictions on refugees’ access to employment. In Kenya, for example, work permits are not issued to refugees. Additionally, in early 2013, a number of civil society groups raised concerns about a dramatic increase in arbitrary arrests and attacks on refugees of Somali origin in Kenya. They also criticised media coverage that often links refugees to insecurity without evidence to corroborate such claims, as compounding existing xenophobic attitudes towards refugees and asylum seekers.

Resettlement is considered an important viable durable solution for Somali refugees in both Kenya and Ethiopia. For 2014, UNHCR’s planned resettlement submissions for Somali refugees are 5,883 refugees – 3,673 in Kenya and 2,210 in Ethiopia, respectively. More broadly, UNHCR has projected total multi-year resettlement needs for 151,416 Somali refugees in Kenya and Ethiopia – 141,511 in Kenya and 9,905 in Ethiopia.

The resettlement process in Dadaab has been complicated by growing insecurity in the camp and subsequent difficulties in accessing populations living there, meaning progressively smaller numbers of refugees have been submitted for resettlement in recent years (from 8,143 refugees in 2010 to 2,170 in 2012) and a lack of resettlement places for refugees in Dadaab. Besides the small number of Somali refugees who can actually be resettled, main challenges also include long resettlement processing periods with average processing time between selection and departure of Somali refugees being 458 days. Some resettlement countries such as Canada, Australia and the UK tried to circumvent the security issue by using video conferencing tools for selection interviews. While Somali refugees in Ethiopia have been listed by the EU as a common resettlement priority for 2013, Somali refugees in Kenya have not. Most Somali refugees are resettled to the US, Canada and Australia. In Europe, particularly, Norway, Sweden and the UK have received Somali refugees.

Photo 1: Mohammed, Somali refugee living in Nairobi. © Andrew McConnell/Panos Pictures/The IRC

Photo 2: Somali refugees in the self-settled outskirts of Daagahaley camp prepare to be relocated to have better access to facilities and services. © IOM / Brendan Bannon