Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status for those claiming asylum, and the government coordinated with the UNHCR to provide assistance and protection to refugees. Drought, famine, and conflict in Somalia, however, resulted in a massive influx of refugees into the country during the year. The refugee influx and security threats emanating from Somalia, particularly those associated with the Dadaab refugee camps, severely strained the government’s ability to provide security, which impeded the efforts of the UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to assist and protect refugees and asylum seekers.
Although the border with Somalia remained officially closed throughout the year, the monthly rate of Somali new arrivals into Kenya peaked at approximately 37,000 in August. As of late November, the UNHCR registered more than 176,000 new refugees, 154,000 of whom settled in the Dadaab refugee camps. The UNHCR estimated the total number of refugees in the country at more than 600,000, including more than 463,000 at Dadaab, more than 84,000 at the Kakuma refugee camp, and more than 53,000 in urban areas throughout the country, including Nairobi.
For several months the government allowed the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to transport refugees from the border town of Liboi to Dadaab, which helped to prevent extortion and attacks on refugees. On October 17, however, the government reiterated that the border was closed, tightened enforcement measures, stopped registering new refugees at Dadaab, and ordered the IOM to stop transporting refugees from the border. The government’s actions followed a series of security incidents and the commencement of the government’s military incursion into Somalia.
In accordance with the law, which provides for the government to assume responsibility from the UNHCR for the administration of refugee affairs, in March the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) assumed responsibility for registering asylum seekers in Dadaab, Kakuma, and Nairobi. The DRA expanded its registration activities to Malindi and Mombasa later in the year. A significant registration backlog developed in Dadaab, however, with the influx of refugees from Somalia. This backlog was eliminated by September, but the government suspended all registration activities in October. Unrelated to the registration backlog in Dadaab, in Kakuma there remained a significant backlog in refugee status determination for all nationalities except Sudanese. The government recognizes Somalis from south and central Somalia as refugees on a prima facie basis and therefore does not require a refugee status determination.
During the year the government announced a mass distribution of refugee identification cards but did not complete the distribution by year’s end. The government planned to take responsibility for refugee status determination from the UNHCR as well, although it had not done so by year’s end.
During the year the government permitted the opening of two additional camps in the Dadaab area, bringing to five the number of camps comprising the refugee complex. Despite the additional facilities, overcrowding remained a problem. The government did not open the Liboi registration center for Somali asylum seekers, despite multiple promises to the contrary. Although the government allowed both the Ifo 2 and Kambioos camps to receive refugees, it refused to provide official recognition and support to the Kambioos facility. The UNHCR moved refugees from the outskirts of the existing camps to plots in the new camps. This process stopped in late October, following security incidents. Cholera, meningitis, and measles outbreaks were reported in Dadaab. Malnutrition rates in the camps increased during the year due to the arrival of famine-affected refugees.
Despite government policy that all refugees must reside in camps, 12,501 newly arriving refugees were registered in Nairobi during the year, bringing the officially registered Nairobi refugee population to slightly more than 53,000 persons. Urban refugees remained vulnerable populations. While assistance programs for urban refugees increased during the year, there remained little possibility for local integration.
Nonrefoulement: Unlike in the previous year, there were no confirmed reports of refoulement; in 2010 HRW reported that hundreds of Somali asylum seekers were deported back to Somalia. However, in January the government ordered NGOs to cease services to Somalis who fled to Mandera, in order to create conditions more conducive for them to return home.
Refugee Abuse: On June 30, police shot and killed two refugees and injured numerous others while using live ammunition to quell a riot in the Dagahaley refugee camp, one of the camps in the Dadaab complex. The refugees were gathered to protest an attempt to demolish illegal structures around a food distribution point, according to the UNHCR.
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) remained problems at both the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. Reported incidents included domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, physical assault, psychological abuse, and forced marriage, particularly of young Sudanese and Somali girls. Refugee communities sometimes targeted opponents of FGM. Health and social workers in Kakuma refugee camp reported that due to strong rape awareness programs in the camp, victims increasingly reported such incidents, resulting in improved access to counseling. In Dadaab, however, the government’s limited ability and UNHCR’s restricted access and limited ability to provide refugee services or protection resulted in numerous SGBV cases and the underreporting of crimes and abuse. Between January and November, for example, 361 SGBV incidents were reported in Dadaab and 114 in Nairobi. Between January and August, 217 SGBV incidents were reported in Kakuma.
Mobile court judiciary officials associated with the camps reportedly directed imams not to officiate weddings of girls under the age of 18 in an effort to reduce the occurrence of coerced, underage marriages.
Other security problems in refugee camps included banditry, ethnic-based violence, and the harassment of Muslim converts to Christianity.
In April the UNHCR and the government signed a memorandum of understanding to reinforce security in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps by increasing police, procuring additional equipment for police, and establishing a screening center at Liboi. In November, 92 officers (of 200 requested) were deployed to Dadaab to reinforce the 349 officers already there.
Mobile courts continued to serve the camp populations and were instrumental in curbing crime and violence when cases were reported; however, most crimes went unreported. In September the magistrate with jurisdiction over Dadaab reported that despite the massive influx of refugees, there was no corresponding increase in new cases reported to the mobile courts.
Refugees’ freedom of movement remained severely restricted. The government required all refugees to remain at UNHCR camps unless granted permission by the government to attend higher education institutions, receive specialized medical care outside the camp, or leave to avoid security threats. In September the government reported that 70 percent of refugees who were granted movement passes did not return to the camps.
Numerous refugees were arrested for violating movement restrictions. According to the UNHCR, between January and November, 1,453 refugees from Dadaab were detained for unauthorized movement outside the camp; of those, 330 were minors who were handed over to the UNHCR. In Kakuma, during the same period, 148 persons were detained, of whom only seven were registered refugees. In Nairobi, also between January and November, 464 individuals were detained for movement violations; half of whom turned out to be asylum seekers, including numerous Ethiopian nationals transiting Kenya. Asylum seekers were generally released to either the DRA or UNHCR for registration.