A brief history

The advent 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 1990s, Kenya experienced a sudden influx of refugees fleeing coups and conflicts in neighbouring countries of Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia among others.

By 1992 Kenya had over 420,000 refugees mainly from Somalia who were fleeing the war that led to the fall of the government of the late Siyyad Barre in the hands of warlords. To accommodate the huge number of refugees, the Government opened 15 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 by transferring refugees to Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, which remain active to date. Currently, Kenya has two gazetted refugee camps namely, Dadaab and Kakuma as well as the Kalobeyei refugee settlement located near Kakuma refugee camp.

Regarding government institutions managing refugees as well as the legal frameworks have been changing over the years. A Refugee Secretariat under the Ministry of Immigration and Registration of Persons was established in the early 2000s which was later upgraded to the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) on 17 May 2007. The department was established after the enactment of the Refugees Act 2006. On 27th February 2009, the Minister gazetted the refugee reception, registration and adjudication regulations to assist in the implementation of the Refugee Act 2006.

The Department of Refugee Affairs was disbanded in May 2016 and renamed to Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS). In November 2021, the new Refugee Act 2021 replaced the Refugee Act 2006. The new Act which came into force on 22 February 2021 subsequently renamed the Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS) to the Department of Refugee Services (DRS) with many structural and operational changes most of which are still being implemented.