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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Somali Refugees in Kenya


Somali refugees have fled to Kenya in significant numbers since the early 1990s. As of December 2012, almost 450,000 refugees were registered in the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya – almost all of them Somalis. The Kakuma camp also hosts over 50,000 Somali refugees. The rate at which the camp populations have grown, combined with ongoing insecurity in Dadaab, have challenged aid agencies’ attempts to meet and maintain minimum international standards for humanitarian assistance. The large number of refugees living in precarious legal status in Nairobi and other urban areas presents significant challenges as well. In the absence of prospects for large-scale, voluntary return to Somalia, and given the Kenyan government’s resistance to local integration, several governments (including the United States) have resettled Somali refugees – but resettlement will not be a short- or medium-term solution for the bulk of the population.

Thus the U.S. Government is working with UNHCR and other donors to strengthen protection and assistance programs for those who remain in the camps, even as we work to bring stability to Somalia that would resolve this protracted refugee situation.

The U.S. Government is also working with other donors, UNHCR, and the Kenyan government to plan and prepare for increased voluntary repatriation of refugees to Somalia, in safety and dignity, when conditions are appropriate in areas of return.

Even as return is possible for some, others may face new displacement and need for refugee protection. The U.S. Government will continue to advocate for first asylum for Somali refugees, the reopening of the Kenya-Somalia border along with improved screening and reception facilities near the border, and the expansion of the Dadaab and Kakuma camps.

Finally, the United States is working with UNHCR, the Kenyan authorities, other donors, and NGO partners to ensure that minimum international standards – including standards relating to security and neutrality -- are met in Dadaab and Kakuma camps. In conjunction with UNHCR and other donors, the United States is supporting education and livelihood programs in Dadaab and Kakuma, along with assistance to refugees living in urban areas. It is important to focus on equipping Somali refugees with skills that will enable them to restart their lives in Somalia and contribute toward building a stable country. Until refugees can return voluntarily, this benefits Kenyan host populations and promotes greater self-reliance in the meantime. The U.S. Government will continue to accept selected vulnerable refugees for resettlement.

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