Kenya's path to refugee integration


A young Sudanese refugee prepares a meal next to her shelter in the Farchana refugee camp, on April 7, 2024. [AFP]

World Refugee Day, observed every year on June 20th, is a time to recognize the strength, courage, and resilience of millions of refugees around the globe. This year's theme, "A World Where Refugees Are Welcomed," emphasizes the global commitment to providing safety, dignity, and opportunities for refugees to rebuild their lives. As we mark this day in 2024, it's essential to highlight how countries are translating this theme into reality. Kenya stands out as a significant player, showcasing its dedication through robust policies and collaborative efforts.

Kenya has a long history of hosting refugees, primarily from neighboring countries such as Somalia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The nation currently shelters over 500,000 refugees and asylum seekers, making it one of the largest refugee-hosting countries in Africa. Integrating such a vast number of displaced individuals poses significant challenges but also offers opportunities for social and economic enrichment.

Kenya's integration efforts have gained momentum under the leadership of Cabinet Secretary for Interior and National Administration, Kithure Kindiki. He has been a vocal advocate for refugee rights and integration, stressing the importance of creating an inclusive society. Secretary Kindiki's approach includes ensuring that refugees have access to essential services such as education, healthcare, and employment opportunities. By promoting policies that foster self-reliance, Kindiki aims to reduce dependency on humanitarian aid and encourage refugees to contribute to the Kenyan economy.

The World Bank has played a crucial role in supporting Kenya's refugee integration initiatives. Through financial assistance and development programs, the World Bank helps enhance the infrastructure and services in refugee-hosting areas. One notable initiative is the Kenya Development Response to Displacement Impacts Project (KDRDIP), which aims to improve the livelihoods of both refugees and host communities. By investing in education, health, and economic development, the World Bank ensures that refugees are not only welcomed but are also given the tools to thrive.

A pivotal element in Kenya's refugee integration strategy is the Refugee Act 2021. This landmark legislation outlines the rights and obligations of refugees and the state's responsibilities toward them. The Act emphasizes the integration of refugees into national development plans, ensuring they have access to public services and the labor market. Key provisions include:

- Legal Status and Documentation: The Act streamlines the process for refugees to obtain legal status and identification documents, facilitating their access to services and employment.

- Education and Training: It mandates the inclusion of refugees in the national education system and vocational training programs, promoting skill development and self-reliance.

- Economic Participation: Refugees are allowed to engage in gainful employment and entrepreneurial activities, which helps in their economic integration and contribution to local economies.

While the Refugee Act 2021 represents a significant step forward, its implementation presents challenges. One major hurdle is the capacity of local institutions to absorb and integrate refugees effectively. Limited resources and infrastructure, especially in already strained refugee-hosting areas, can impede progress. Additionally, social integration remains a challenge as refugees often face discrimination and xenophobia.

Despite these progressive efforts, Kenya's policy on repatriation has faced criticism. Reports indicate that Kenya has been sending refugees back to their countries of origin, a practice that contravenes the principle of non-refoulement, which prohibits returning refugees to places where they face serious threats to their life or freedom. This practice has raised concerns among human rights organizations and highlights a significant contradiction in Kenya's refugee policies.

However, these challenges also present opportunities for innovation and collaboration. Strengthening partnerships between the government, international organizations, and the private sector can mobilize resources and expertise. Enhancing public awareness campaigns to combat xenophobia and promote the benefits of refugee integration can also foster a more inclusive society.

As we celebrate World Refugee Day 2024, Kenya's efforts to create a welcoming environment for refugees offer a promising example of what can be achieved with strong leadership, supportive policies, and international cooperation. The proactive stance of Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki, the strategic support from the World Bank, and the progressive framework of the Refugee Act 2021 collectively illustrate a comprehensive approach to refugee integration.

Despite the challenges, Kenya's commitment to embracing refugees not only aligns with this year's theme but also sets a precedent for other nations to follow in building a world where refugees are truly welcomed.

The writer is the head of refugee rights at the legal caravan