Kenya: Citizens’ perceptions on refugees

Published: 19/Jun/2018
Source: International Rescue Committee

The much-anticipated Global Compact for Refugees (GCR), expected in late 2018, together with the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), promise to revitalize refugee response through a multi-stakeholder “whole of society” approach. At a time when the international community is grappling with fundamental questions such as the equitable sharing of responsibility for refugees, the views and opinions of citizens in East Africa are invaluable in charting new directions.

East Africa has a long history of hosting refugee populations. Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda have experienced large influxes of people displaced by the numerous conflicts in the region over the past decades. These three countries currently host more than 2.2 million refugees, with Uganda hosting 1.4 million, followed by Kenya (just under 500,000) and Tanzania (over 350,000).

The dominant refugee response model in East Africa has been to house refugees in large camps, often built in marginal locations that restrict access and movement. This limits interaction between refugees and citizens of the host country. More recently, an integrated settlements approach, in which refugees and host communities coexist and share common services—as exemplified by the Settlements Transformative Agenda and Refugee and Host Population Empowerment in Uganda and the Kalobeyei settlement in Kenya—have brought citizens and refugees closer together, albeit only at the local level.

The majority of citizens in Kenya sill have little or no interaction with refugees, yet Kenyans play a critical role, both directly and indirectly, in determining the conditions of refugee asylum. The extent to which citizens influence asylum policies in Kenya is not well documented, and little is known about the impact of citizens’ perceptions on current policy positions, despite this being a requirement of the country’s constitution. Currently, there is an ideal opportunity to incorporate citizens’ views with the proposed Refugee Bill—a previous version of the legislation failed for want of public participation.

This report attempts to illuminate key issues concerning citizens’ perceptions on refugee reception and response, as well as their attitudes toward the establishment of durable solutions. UNHCR defines three durable solutions for refugees:

  1. voluntary repatriation to the country of origin in safety and dignity,
  2. local integration in the country of asylum and,
  3. resettlement to a third country.

The objective is to highlight any connection (or disconnection) that may exist between public perceptions of refugees and public policy established by national and local governments.

The report calls for more deliberate and strategic engagement of the public in the policy decision-making process in Kenya. It identifies opportunities for strategic engagement of citizens and concludes that more needs to be done to improve the quality of information available to the public, as well as opportunities for citizens and refugees to engage directly in policy formulation.

Download report from the IRC website:


Many refugees in Kenya have been living in the country for years, some for over two decades, including those who were born in Kenya. By law, refugees may apply for citizenship if they meet requirements, including at least seven years of legal residence. In practice, however, citizenship is largely unattainable due to political and bureaucratic impediments. While a minority of respondents (32%) believe refugees should be allowed to gain citizenship an almost equal percentage (62%) say that they would support citizenship for refugees who have maintained legal residence for 20 years (Figure 14). Nearly a quarter (24%) maintain that citizenship should never be granted to refugees.

Kenyans are more sympathetic to refugees born in Kenya, or who were brought to Kenya as young children. An overwhelming majority (94%) express support for education for refugee children born in Kenya (Figure 15). Most Kenyans support the right to work (81%) and freedom of movement (76%) for refugees born in Kenya, as shown in Figure 15. The majority of respondents (62%) also support granting citizenship to this group (Figure 15).

Themes: Nationality and Refugees
Regions: Kenya
Year: 2018