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Understanding the Socio-Economic Conditions of Urban Refugees in Kenya : Results from the 2020-2021 Urban Socioeconomic Survey



Forcibly displaced people (FDP) are increasingly inhabiting urban areas where, together with urban hosts, they face an array of risks and heightened vulnerabilities that need to be addressed through evidence-based policies and programs. More than half of the world’s population including FDPs live in urban areas. Urban refugees often face the problems confronting urban poor such as inadequate housing and marginalization, combined with unique challenges related to their refugee situation. Such challenges, not restricted to only urban refugees, include the threat of arrest and detention, refoulement, harassment, extorsion, vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), human smuggling and trafficking. While socioeconomic data of urban non-displaced populations tends to be more easily accessible than that of rural communities, data of urban refugees is extremely scarce compared to that of their camp-based counterparts. Addressing the risks and vulnerabilities faced by urban refugees and their hosts, requires narrowing existing data gaps to inform advocacy, policy options, programs, and durable solutions.

As refugees in Kenya are not systematically included in national household surveys (NHS), their inclusion into NHS complemented by specific refugee and host community surveys are needed to provide evidence for policy planning and programming. Refugees in Kenya are not included in NHS, resulting in a lack of comparable socioeconomic data of forcibly displaced people (FDP) and their hosts. This limits efforts to design policies and programs that inclusively address the needs of vulnerable populations, especially when facing socioeconomic shocks such as those resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Developing and strengthening national and international policy frameworks that promote the inclusion of refugees into NHS is crucial to produce evidence needed to inform targeted response. Comparable refugee and host community surveys can help complement NHS data. Moving forward, making data and survey findings publicly available (after anonymization) is critical to ensure that key stakeholders have access to evidence to inform their action.

The Urban Socioeconomic Survey (SES) helps close data gaps by providing comparable socioeconomic profiles for refugees and host community members. Initiated jointly by UNHCR and the World Bank, the Urban SES helps inform evidence-based programming and policy development by addressing socioeconomic data gaps especially instructive in the economic downturn associated with the COVID19 pandemic. Even though preceding surveys provide useful information on the living conditions of urban refugees and hosts, there is no analysis that uses national socioeconomic measurements to understand both communities’ living conditions. Implemented during the COVID-19 lockdown, the Urban SES provides comparable socioeconomic profiles for urban refugees and hosts by using an instrument that is comparable to the Kenya Continuous Household Survey (KCHS) 2019. The Urban SES, ensuing analysis, and the recommendations provide a comprehensive snapshot of refugees’ and hosts’ demographics, housing characteristics, and access to services while covering refugee-specific details on livelihoods, education, food security, social cohesion, trajectories of displacement, and intentions to move.

The comparability between urban refugees and their host communities can be limited by the mode and timing of the data collections. While the Urban SES was collected through Computer-Assisted Telephone Interviews (CATI), the KCHS was done through Computer-Assisted Personal Interviews (CAPI). Differences between these two modes of data collection can affect the comparability between refugees and host. Moreover, the urban SES was collected during the COVID-19 period while the KCHS was collected before the COVID-19 outbreak. Therefore, comparative insights mainly for education and employment are not feasible to be included.