Academic journal article Africa Policy Journal

Enhancing the Protective Space for Refugees in Kenya and Uganda

Academic journal article Africa Policy Journal

Enhancing the Protective Space for Refugees in Kenya and Uganda

Article excerpt

Refugee Protection in East Africa

The number of refugees in the world has surged over the past decade. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated around 14.4 million refugees worldwide in 2014.1 Figures in East Africa are continuously rising with host countries unable to handle the swelling influx of large-scale refu- gees. Countries such as Uganda and Kenya together host more than 1.2 million refugees. This translates to around seven percent of the world's total refugees in a region that accounts for nearly 10 percent of the world's population and is the least capable of caring for them.2 Arguably, there are more refugees located in East Africa than anywhere else in sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, there are about 12 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), making the protection challenges faced by both source and host countries in the region daunting.

With the Horn of Africa acknowledged as a major refugee-producing region coupled with the civil war in South Sudan, terrorist activities in Somalia, and the protracted conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the resulting displacement of populations persists. Uganda and Kenya are grappling with how best to manage the large-scale influx of refugees in the face of long-term displacement.

This article analyzes the refugee protection frameworks of Kenya and Uganda as a means to identify opportunities where international standards can be applied to protect the rights of refugees. In order to find a durable solution to the Mediterranean crises caused by forced migrants from Africa, efforts should be channeled into addressing the poor application, supervision, and enforcement of refugee laws and policies of host countries in East Africa, particularly Kenya and Uganda.

Unfriendly Refugee Policy in Kenya

Kenya is currently hosting about 551,352 refugees and 34,011 asylum seekers.3 Per its national policy, refugees are held in traditional refugee camp settings with temporary, makeshift structures created to provide shelter for forced migrants. However, since 2005, the camps have undergone a dramatic shift, becoming a permanent housing feature for refugees in Kenya and other parts of East Africa. UNHCR's Dadaab refugee camp presents the clearest illustration and is where the government of Kenya houses the large influx of Somali refugees. Since 1995, the camp has hosted thousands of refugees fleeing famine, armed conflicts, and recently, the increased threat by Al-Shabaab insurgency in Somalia. Dadaab comprises of three major camps: Dagahaley, Hagadera, and Ifo. The camp now houses more than 300,000 refugees with an annual increase of 11.7 percent since 1992.4

Studies have revealed that refugee camps in Kenya, including Dadaab, are urbanizing, which has come with associated challenges like poor access to healthcare, education, and housing.5 As a result, refugees in these camps face unrest and extreme pov- erty with restricted access to basic social services.6 Moreover, the protracted instability in Somalia means that Somali refugees, who constitute more than half of the total refugee population in Kenya, are uncertain about when they will be able to return home. The uncertainty Somali refugees face in Kenya implies a semi-permanent situation. These refugees should be economically integrated into the mainstream socioeconomic life of Kenya so they may be enabled to live decent and dignified lives.

Meanwhile, the policies pursued by Eastern African governments show little intention to seriously consider alternatives to the dominant encampment policy. The encampment policy provides that refugees reside in camps-including planned or self-settled camps and settlements-or other facilities, such as collective centres where, in most cases, host governments and humanitarian actors provide assistance and services in a centralized manner.7 Encampment often limits the rights and freedoms of refugees, and deters their ability to make meaningful choices about their lives. …

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