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Self-Reliance in Kalobeyei? Socio-Economic Outcomes for refugees in North-West Kenya

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Alexander Betts, Remco Geervliet, Claire MacPherson, Naohiko Omata, Cory Rodgers, Olivier Sterck

Executive summary

Context. Kenya hosts nearly 500,000 refugees.1 Most of these refugees are from Somalia, but Kenya also hosts refugees from South Sudan, Ethiopia, DRC, Burundi, and Sudan. Historically, most of the refugees have been concentrated in three main locations: the Dadaab camps, the Kakuma camps and Nairobi.

Background. The Kalobeyei settlement was conceived in 2015, just 30 km from Kakuma in Turkana County. It was a joint initiative of UNHCR and the regional government, supported with funding from the European Union. Its aim was to take pressure off the Kakuma camps and to transition refugee assistance from an aid-based model to a self-reliance model. It would offer opportunities for economic inclusion and greater interaction with the host community. Refugees in the Kakuma camp were expected to relocate voluntarily to Kalobeyei. However, the unexpected arrival of large numbers of South Sudanese refugees required a need for greater flexibility in the implementation of this model, and emergency assistance was made available. Nevertheless, Kalobeyei’s planners have retained a significant commitment to selfreliance. For example, Kalobeyei has differed from Kakuma in having designated market areas, more extensive use of a cash-assistance programme called Bamba Chakula (‘get your food’), and greater promotion of subsistence agriculture.

Primary questions. Given that recently arrived South Sudanese refugees have been allocated to both Kalobeyei (more of a ‘self-reliance model’) and Kakuma (more of an ‘aid model’),2 this offers a unique opportunity to compare outcomes for refugees across the two contexts. We focus specifically on recently arrived refugees to examine three central questions. First, how can we measure self-reliance for new arrivals in both contexts? Second, to what extent is self-reliance greater in the new Kalobeyei settlement compared with the old Kakuma camp? Third, how can selfreliance be enhanced in such a difficult environment?

Methodology. The report draws upon data collected from the first of three waves of surveys to be carried out over a threeyear period. The resulting panel data set will be used to compare the self-reliance and the socio-economic indicators of recent arrivals living in the Kalobeyei settlement and the Kakuma camp. From August to November 2017 we interviewed 2,560 adults from 1,397 households, and conducted focus groups and semi-structured interviews with refugees and other stakeholders.

Theory. An ongoing challenge within policy and academic literature relates to how to measure ‘self-reliance’, and how to distinguish it from a more general measure of well-being. Our conceptual framework identifies five key dimensions of self-reliance in a refugee context: sustainable well-being, economic activity, access to public goods, access to markets, and access to networks. Our survey was designed to enable us to (1) measure variation in outcomes across these dimensions; and (2) explain variation across these dimensions

Sustainable well-being. Most newly arrived refugees are dissatisfied with their life in Kalobeyei and Kakuma. Food security and the dietary diversity of new arrivals is poor in both Kakuma and Kalobeyei. On a positive note, these indicators are slightly better for South Sudanese recent arrivals living in Kalobeyei compared with those living in Kakuma: 1.8 meals per day versus 1.5 meals per day, and 89% are food insecure in Kakuma compared with 79% in Kalobeyei. They also had greater food diversity: 76% compared with 58.5% classified as having an acceptable diversity score. This difference may be due to them being able to cultivate their allocated plots of land (36% have a kitchen garden in Kalobeyei compared with 20% in Kakuma), and to freely exchange surplus production. Most individuals and households have limited assets. South Sudanese refugees in Kakuma own slightly more assets than those in Kalobeyei.

Economic activities. Few refugees have an incomegenerating activity. Most of those employed are hired by NGOs as incentive workers with pay restrictions. While many households are involved or willing to be involved in agriculture, access to water and seeds is limiting agricultural production. Few refugees engage in animal husbandry, an activity reserved for the host pastoralist population. South Sudanese refugees in Kalobeyei have a higher median income at 40 USD per month compared with 23 USD per month in Kakuma. Nevertheless, the lack of economic activities in Kakuma and Kalobeyei suggests that many residents in both areas are still a long way from economic self-reliance.
Access to public goods and aid. Refugees’ access to public goods is mixed. Compared to the situation in their countries of origin, refugees enjoy better access to healthcare and education, especially in Kakuma. However, the vast majority consider their access to these services, as well as to resources such as water and electricity, to be inadequate. These limitations affect the scope and scale of economic activities that can take place in the two sites. While agriculture is essential to ensure refugee self-reliance, this sector cannot be expanded without improved access to water, and there are questions of whether there is enough arable land available for the agricultural demand. The absence of electricity impedes entrepreneurship.

Access to markets. Many markets are underdeveloped and constrained in Kalobeyei. The labour market is almost non-existent, except for the few jobs offered by NGOs. Refugees cannot work as herders or wood collectors, as these activities are reserved for the host population. The market for goods is largely dependent on the Bamba Chakula food programme. Combined with Kalobeyei’s distance from Kenya’s major markets, this seems to constrain the organic emergence of a complementary cash economy. Access to formal credit and savings institutions is limited.

Access to networks. Most refugees’ personal networks do not offer access to start-up capital for a business or to make ends meet. Very few households receive remittances, and contact with their country of origin is infrequent.

Personal characteristics. Refugees are, on the whole, young. The demographic structure of households varies a lot between the sites. In Kakuma camps 1 and 2, many recent arrivals are living with the ‘old caseload’ in larger and wealthier households. In Kalobeyei, three quarters of South Sudanese adults are women. South Sudanese households are in fact often headed by mothers whose husband is either dead, missing, or living in South Sudan. For these households, taking care of children while engaging in economic activities is an important challenge that should not be overlooked. Education levels are low, especially among South Sudanese recent arrivals from rural areas. If access to water and sufficient amounts of arable land were not problems, agriculture would certainly be the most appropriate economic activity for the bulk of refugees, given their former livelihood experiences and existing skill sets.

Environment. The hostile climate and remoteness of Kalobeyei and Kakuma negatively affect economic activities. Relations with the host population are at times mutually beneficial, and at times conflictual. In practice, the legal constraints imposed on refugees living in Kalobeyei are not much different from those in Kakuma: (1) refugees cannot legally leave their designated camp or settlement without obtaining a movement pass; (2) they cannot be employed without obtaining a Class M work permit, the difficulty of doing so having limited most refugees to ‘incentive work’ with pay limitations; and (3) they do not own the land or own the fixed assets they build on the land. These environmental constraints negatively affect refugees’ investments in businesses.

Comparing models. While this is only one case study – and is still at a very early phase following the South Sudanese influx – data on recently arrived South Sudanese refugees suggests that the ‘self-reliance model’ adopted in Kalobeyei may be better for income, food security and consumption.
However, the ‘aid model’ may be better for asset accumulation, participation in sports and community activities.

Implications. This report makes a number of original contributions. First, it offers a basis on which to begin to measure the progressive self-reliance of refugees. Second, it focuses specifically on the challenges of achieving self-reliance among recently arrived refugees. Third, it offers a comparison of the degree of self-reliance achieved within two contrasting assistance models, which occupy different positions on a spectrum between an ‘aid model’ and a ‘self-reliance model’. Furthermore, it identifies policy recommendations for better promoting refugee self-reliance within Turkana County.