Political Participation of Refugees: The Case of Somali and South Sudanese Refugees in Kenya

Published: 18/Apr/2018
Source: International IDEA

Refugees have the potential to make an impact on the political life of both their host countries and their countries of origin, as they often maintain transnational links with their homelands while at the same time becoming part of their host society. 

Drawing on individual perspectives of Somali and South Sudanese refugees based in Kenya, this case study explores the formal and non-formal political participation of refugees and asylum seekers in their host country and the ways in which they are able to participate in peacebuilding and democracy-building in their countries of origin.

Among the formal mechanisms for political participation, the case study explores issues of access to citizenship in the host country, electoral rights in both the host country and countries of origin, and membership or other forms of support to political parties. In addition, it examines non-formal mechanisms for political participation, including refugees’ participation in consultative bodies, civil society organizations, protests and grassroots initiatives, and other means of transnational political activism.

This case study is part of the Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Democracy project and has informed the development of a longer report, Political Participation of Refugees: Bridging the Gaps, published by International IDEA in 2018.

Download Kenya report from International IDEA: https://www.idea.int/publications/catalogue/political-participation-refugees-case-somali-and-south-sudanese-refugees?lang=en

Extract, p.11:

Access to citizenship According to the 2010 Constitution of Kenya (article 15), ‘a person who has been lawfully resident in Kenya for a continuous period of at least seven years’ and who meets other conditions prescribed in the relevant legislation may be naturalized. In addition, the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act of 2011 (article 13) requires that in order to qualify for naturalization one must have ‘an adequate knowledge of Kenya and of the duties and rights of citizens’, have knowledge of Kiswahili or a local language, and be able to make a contribution to Kenya’s national development.

However, in practice, naturalization is not granted to refugees (Garlick et al. 2015). According to the UNHCR, there is no great interest on the part of most refugees in becoming Kenyan citizens. The handful of individuals who applied in 2015 are still awaiting decisions on their applications and there is no data on the number of Somali or South Sudanese refugees who have obtained Kenyan citizenship. A representative of the DRA interviewed for this case study argued that a refugee seeking Kenyan citizenship must move from having refugee status to the status of ‘non- Kenyan resident’ as defined in the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act of 2011.

According to this interpretation, the seven- year residence requirement would only start counting from the moment that the applicant received a residence permit as non- Kenyan. The DRA representative conceded that this law is unclear and needs to be reviewed, as even refugees who have been in Kenya for more than seven years remain ineligible for citizenship and hence cannot formally participate in Kenyan politics. Unlike refugees and asylum seekers, non- Kenyans with legal residency are free to move to any part of the country, engage in business and seek employment, although they cannot participate in elections (DRA representative 1, Nairobi 2017).

Themes: Nationality and Elections, Nationality and Refugees
Regions: Kenya
Year: 2018