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The Refugee Process in Kenya

The Refugee Process in Kenya

Coming to Kenya as a Refugee


The legal status of refugees in Kenya is subject to sudden change. In order to protect yourself, it is essential you know of your rights, and regularly check on new developments in refugee law and practice in Kenya. 

Importantly, Kenya considers itself as only a country of asylum for as long as a refugee has a mandate or is in the process of acquiring or renewing one. Not having papers in order (including a valid mandate) can lead to deportation.



The Kenyan Department for Refugee Affairs (DRA) under the Ministry of Immigration and Registration of Persons has the overall responsibility for all administration, coordination and management of refugee matters. 

The DRA currently registers refugees, and the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process is currently conducted jointly by the DRA’s Refugee Status Determination (RSD) officers working alongside RSD staff from the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The joint RSD work is part of a phased transition, through which the DRA is gradually assuming its governmental responsibilities for undertaking RSD activities, with UNHCR filling gaps where DRA’s capacity remains to be developed.

Since December 2012, the Kenyan government has been attempting to move all refugees in Kenya to refugee camps. This was successfully challenged in the Supreme Court by Kenyan NGOs and individual refugees. 

At the moment, it is illegal for the Kenyan government to send refugees living in urban areas with appropriate paperwork to refugee camps, or deport them to their country of origin. However, in March 2014, another statement by Joseph Lenku, Interior Minister, ordered all refugees to move to Kakuma and Dadaab (see CPJ, RPT and RSF letter protesting this move here).  

This lack of clarity means that refugees in urban areas are often the subject of arrests, harassment and intimidation. Somali refugees have been especially targeted. 

Registration offices


Currently, all registration offices outside of the refugee camps are closed. It is only possible to register in DRA office in the Kakuma and Dadaab settlements.

You can find where the settlements are located using the maps below:

Registering as a refugee in refugee camps


As an asylum seeker to Kenya, you can approach any government official, who will point you to the nearest DRA registration office. 

In one of those offices (currently only in Kakuma and Dadaab), a registration officer will take your information, and give you a waiting slip/stamped pass, valid for one year.

You will then be directed to a UNHCR office to undertake the RSD process. If this process determines you are eligible for asylum, you will receive refugee documentation. Some refugees who have remained on Kenyan territory for long periods of time have sometimes been issued with ID cards. 

This process can be quite lengthy. It is essential that you keep all appointments and provide all the information necessary as quickly as possible. It is important to answer questions fully and truthfully. Friends, relatives and community leaders may suggest that you give false information. This is a fom of fraud. If there is something you do not understand, be sure to mention it to your caseworker. You might have to attend several meetings before your status is confirmed (sometimes up to 16). The process can take up to a year, and the decision can take up to six months. 

  • If your application is unsuccessful, you must appeal within 30 days. Be aware that appeal decisions are final.
  • If you feel you cannot stay in a refugee camp for safety reasons, it is very important to mention this as soon as possible in the registration process. 


Third Country Resettlement


As a journalist in exile, you can sometimes feel at risk in your country of refuge. This might mean that relocating to another country is the only way to guarantee your safety.

Third-country resettlement is not a common process, and is generally accessible only to the most vulnerable of refugees (1% of the total caseload). It's not a right, and can never be guaranteed. Be aware that even if you do receive third-country resettlement, it can take a long time until the process is finalised and you are on your way.  


Resettlement Counselling


Resettlement counselling is available to everyone who has been granted refugee status and is thus not limited to individuals already in the resettlement process. However, it is important to remember that the main purpose of these counselling sessions is to provide information about resettlement criteria, procedures, requirements, quotas etc. Therefore, getting an appointment for resettlement counselling does not mean that you have been identified for resettlement.

UNHCR identification systems are based on referrals by internal UNHCR units (Refugee Status Determination, Community Services, Protection Delivery Units and Medical Units) or external partners, who have easier access to the most vulnerable refugees. You can also flag potential problems during the Protection counselling on Thursdays. For this you do not need an appointment, but you have to approach the UNHCR office before 10am.

You can also flag your protection problems to one of the UNHCR's legal partners, Refugee Council Kenya (RCK) or Kituo Cha Sheria. Your protection problems will be assessed by those organisations; if they believe that your problems stand out and are more serious than other problems faced by refugees, they will refer the case to the UNHCR for resettlement.

Cost of obtaining refugee status


Obtaining refugee status should be entirely free. If you are asked for money at any point during the refugee process, be sure to contact us, mentioning the time, date, location and details of the event. Any information you provide will be treated with confidentiality.

Who can I contact for more information and support?

In Kenya, two main organisations provide specific support for asylum seekers, the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) and Kituo Cha Sheria . Their websites have good resources regarding the situation of refugees in Kenya. 

You can find more about them, and other organisations that can help you specifically as a journalist in exile, in our page on getting support.

Your rights and duties as a refugee in Kenya

As a refugee in Kenya, you, and all members of your family, your rights and duties are governed by the laws of the country, which you must respect, as well as the Refugee Act of 2006. 

As a party to the 1951 Geneva Convention and the 1967 protocol, refugees in Kenya are legally be entitled to: 

  • The right not to be expelled, except under certain, strictly defined conditions (Article 32);
  • The right not to be punished for illegal entry into the territory of a contracting State (Article 31);
  • The right to work (Articles 17 to 19), under the same conditions as other foreign nationals;
  • The right to housing (Article 21);
  • The right to education (Article 22);
  • The right to public relief and assistance (Article 23);
  • The right to freedom of religion (Article 4);
  • The right to access the courts (Article 16);
  • The right to freedom of movement within the territory (Article 26); 
  • The right to be issued identity and travel documents (Articles 27 and 28).

These rights are often not fully applied in practice - especially, for example, the right to freedom of movement. 

For Further Information


It's very important that refugees know their own rights and duties. As a journalist, your training also puts you in a prime position to communicate this information to other refugees.

Below is a short list of resources available that can give you more information: 

Image: An aerial view of Dabaab refugee camp, by Andy Hall/Oxfam. Used here under a Creative Commons licence. 

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