Most refugees who flee to Kenya from neighboring countries live in
camps, as required by Kenyan law. But a growing number of refugees end
up moving to Nairobi and other cities, where they face a variety of
problems, such as poverty and lack of medical care.
Abdulkadir Mohamed Karayu relaxes with his wife and two children in the family's cramped bedroom.
Karayus came to Kenya from Ethiopia almost four years ago. They lived
in the northern Kenya refugee camp Kakuma for awhile. "Living in Kakuma
is like being engulfed in a fire (it is so hot). Without a doubt my
child would have suffered terribly if we continued staying," he said.
Karayus are one of an increasing number of refugee families and
individuals who opt to stay in Nairobi and other urban centers in Kenya.
arriving in Kenya are required by Kenyan law to live in one of the
country's two refugee camps. The Dadaab camp is run by the United
Nations' refugee agency UNHCR. It houses some 255,000 people.
Emmanuel Nyabera is spokesman for the UNHCR in Kenya.
says that, because the law is not enforced, many refugees end up in
urban centers because they find camp life stressful and dangerous, and
want to improve their lives.
"It always happens that some
refugees develop coping mechanisms in urban areas. Mainly these are
refugees who are skilled, who can offer their skills in urban areas,"
Nyabera explains. "These are people who initially, even when they took
off from their countries, they were living in urban areas, so coping in
a place like a camp becomes a challenge."
But the disadvantage of leaving the camps is that refugees do not get the support and services they receive in the camps.
This is especially the case with health care.
Samora Otieno is country director of Mapendo International, a
U.S.-based organization that helps refugees. The clinic he runs is the
only health facility in Nairobi that specifically serves refugees, who
commonly suffer from respiratory tract and intestinal infections.
Otieno says Kenyan police often harass refugees, commonly to extort
money. He says police do not recognize documents issued by UNHCR, and
can even jail refugees who fail to show identification or passports.
that affects their access to a lot of services. So you find refugees
who are sick but they fear going out to the hospitals because they
think if they go it will be realized that they are refugees and they
don't have documentation and they will be arrested," Dr. Otieno said.
Dr. Otieno and his Mapendo International group also assist refugees such as the Karayu family with food and other supplies.
that type of assistance to urban refugees is rare, says Eunice Ndonga,
senior program officer with the advocacy group Refugee Consortium of
Kenya, or RCK. "So you will find that they have very serious problems
of shelter, they have very serious problems of just basic needs, like
food. Even coming to a place like RCK for the legal aid that we give,
many of them will not access transport," she said.
She says many
of her clients do not know where their next meal will come from and
that many refugee children do not go to school because they have
nothing to eat.
The UNHCR's Nyabera says his agency is concerned
about the situation. "We cannot continue to assume that there are no
urban refugees. We are aware that they are there and we are aware that
it would be very difficult to have a situation where they are not
there," he said. "So we are reaching out to them and coming up with
The RCK's Eunice Ndonga calls on aid groups to provide more assistance to refugees living in cities such as Nairobi.