Mr. Mwanza Katee
Commissioner for Refugee Affairs
The Department of Refugee Services (DRS) is a statutory body established under the Refugee Act 2021 and which is mandated to undertake the management and assistance of refugees and asylum seekers in the country. Among the major services offered by the Department of Refugee Services are to receive and register refugees and asylum seekers and to issue them with important documentation.
For decades, Kenya has been host to over 600,000 refugees who reside mainly in the two refugee camps of Dadaab and Kakuma for decades. The number has gone down by a huge margin due to the ongoing voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees which started on 8th December 2014.
In March 2014, the government directed that all refugees must reside in the designated camps of Kakuma and Dadaab may only be allowed to leave the camp with permission from the Commissioner for Refugee Affairs. The Commissioner may allow refugees to travel out of the refugee camps for purposes of medical services, education, employment or business, resettlement, security threats, among other compelling reasons.
It is important to note that refugee status is a temporary status and Kenya promotes the voluntary repatriation as the best durable solution for refugees. We continue to advocate for enabling environment for refugees to return home to build their lives and nation. Currently, the voluntary repatriation process for Somali refugees is ongoing for those who voluntarily want to return to Somalia.
Refugee hosting is an international monumental task that requires global solutions. In this regard, Kenya urges the international community to continue helping refugees through the expansion of resettlement opportunities and other complimentary pathways. This is in a bid to ease the burden on host nations like Kenya.
Functions of the Commissioner for Refugee Affairs
The functions of the Commissioner for Refugee Affairs are stated under Section 8 of the Refugee Act 2021 and include to:
- Convene and chair the Refugee Advisory Committee;
- Receive, register and maintain a register for all refugees in Kenya;
- Receive and process applications for refugee status;
- Issue refugee identification documents and facilitate issuance of civil registration and other relevant documentation by other government agencies;
- Co-ordinate all measures necessary for promoting the welfare and protection of refugees and asylum seekers and advise the Cabinet Secretary and the Committee thereon;
- Ensure in liaison with other relevant agencies the provision of adequate facilities and services for the protection, reception and care of asylum seekers and refugees within Kenya;
- Promote as far as possible durable solutions for refugees granted asylum in Kenya;
- Be the liaison between the department, state actors and relevant stakeholders and shall in that capacity, sensitize and inform on new developments and policy;
- In liaison with Director of Immigration, process and issue conventional travel documents;
- In liaison with the police, arrest any person suspected of committing an offence under the Act;
- Manage refugee designated areas and other related facilities;
- Form sub-committees and assign to such subcommittees functions to be exercised in relation to the reception, treatment and welfare of asylum seekers and refugees;
- Co-ordinate the provision of overall security, protection and assistance for asylum seekers and refugees in the designated areas;
- Co-ordinate activities to ensure the civilian and humanitarian character of the designated areas is maintained;
- Issue movement passes to refugees and asylum seekers wishing to travel outside the designated areas and within Kenya;
- Exempt asylum seekers and refugees from residing in designated areas where there are compelling reasons to do so;
- Ensure treatment of all asylum seekers and refugees in compliance with national law;
- Issue visitor permits for entry into refugee camps in accordance with regulations;
- In consultation with the Cabinet Secretary, establish structures and mechanisms for management of refugee humanitarian emergencies;
- Initiate, in collaboration with the development partners, projects that promote peaceful and harmonious co-existence between the host communities and refugees;
- Co-ordinate, where relevant in collaboration with county authorities, all services and activities provided to refugees and asylum seekers by implementing agencies;
- Ensure that refugee economic and productive activities do not have a negative impact on host communities, natural resources or the local environment; and
- Ensure sustainable use of resources in designated refugee hosting