Background/A brief history

The arrival of refugees in Kenya can be traced back to the colonial period. After independence, a Secretariat was set up by the Government under the Ministry of Home Affairs to handle refugee registration, documentation, and settlement programs. However, in the early 1990’s, Kenya experienced a sudden influx of refugees fleeing coups and conflicts in neighbouring countries of Uganda, Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia among others.

By 1992, Kenya had over 420,000 refugees, majority of who were from Somalia. The Somali refugees were fleeing war that led to the fall of the Government of the late Siyyad Barre in the hands of warlords. Due to low capacity to handle the influx of refugees, the government asked UNHCR to assist in registration. Therefore, to accommodate the huge number of refugees, the Government opened 13 temporary refugee camps to enable the UNHCR and other agencies to offer humanitarian aid to refugees. The temporary refugee camps were located in Mandera, Banissa, Elwak, Ifo, Hagadera, Dagahaley, Swaleh Nguru, Utange, Marafa, Hatimy, Jomvu, Kakuma and Thika. In 1998, due to congestion and operational difficulties, the Government consolidated the refugee camps and transferred refugees to Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, which remain active to date. In 2013, the two refugee camps were gazetted as the legal residence for refugees.

The Refugee Secretariat was upgraded to the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) under the Ministry of Immigration and Registration of Persons. The department was later strengthened by the enactment of the Refugees Act in December 2006. This act was operationalized from 17th May 2007 to give it a mandate and legal status. On 27th February 2009, the Minister gazetted the refugee reception, registration and adjudication regulations to assist in the implementation of the 2006 Refugee Act. In 2013, the Ministry of Immigration and Registration of Persons was renamed to the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government. The Department of Refugee Affairs was disbanded in May 2016 and a Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS) was formed in its place.