Refugee Economies in Kenya



Kenya currently hosts 490,000 refugees, making it the 10th largest refugee-hosting country in the world and the 4th largest in Africa, following Uganda, Ethiopia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).3 Most of its refugees are from Somalia but it also hosts refugees from South Sudan, Ethiopia, DRC, and Sudan. Its refugees are concentrated in three main locations: the Dadaab camps, the Kakuma camp, and Nairobi.

Since the mass influx of Somali refugees in the early 1990s, Kenyan refugee policy has been characterised as imposing significant restrictions on refugees’ socioeconomic entitlements.
It has been described as a policy of ‘abdication and containment’: delegating responsibility to the international community and requiring refugees to reside in camps.

Its refugee policies contrast notably with those of neighbouring Uganda, which allows refugees the right to work and freedom of movement, just as Kenya had done during the 1970s and 1980s. In that sense, while by no means representative, Kenya’s regulatory framework is similar to that adopted by many other major refugee-hosting countries in the developing world.

Kenya therefore represents an interesting context in which to examine the economic lives of refugees and their interactions with host communities within a seemingly constrained regulatory environment.
It offers an opportunity to further explore a particular, and still largely unresearched, question: ‘What difference does it make – in economic terms – to be a refugee?