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Economic asset or national security burden? Rethinking Kenyan government policies towards urban Somali refugees

Sep 25 01:08 PM


This study starts with an investigation to Somali refugees in Kenya mainly in East Leigh. The primary aim of the study is to determine whether refugees in Kenya are an economic asset or are they security burden to the nation. The study also exposes the views of Somali refugees in Kenya as they are labelled as a security burdens. To curb terrorists, Kenyan government enacted Operation Usalama Watch policy. Therefore, the research will tackle Operation Usalama Watch policy and also highlight views of refugees regarding the adopted policy. The refugee views are of important to the study since they are referred as “terrorist” hence Operation Usalama Watch system deals direct with them.

According to the researchers, immigration of Somali citizens to Kenya is mainly because of internal conflicts. However, during the interview with the refugees, they expressed more reasons behind their immigration. According to them, internal conflicts contributed much to their immigration. Besides internal conflicts in their homeland, persecution from Al-Shabaab who wanted to rank them in their group, environmental issues that didn’t suit their livelihood; (an example given was drought, deforestation), and political persecutions contributed.

Concerning economic impact, Somali refugees have been estimated to contribute much in Kenyan economy especially those in East Leigh. Somali refugees have created a lot of employment to the Kenyans even though they don’t approve of that. According to interviews conducted, many Kenyans are Somali refugee customers in East Leigh. According to one interviewee, Kenyans buy both retail and in wholesale.

As security matters are concerned, Kenyan government has sworn to take Somali refugees back to their homeland since their camps are being used by al-Shabaab to attack the country. According to the Standard digital 11 May 2014, East Leigh was attacked with two grenades whereby six people were confirmed dead. Former cabinet secretary Interior and Coordination of the National Government Joseph Ole Lenku said that the Somalis in East Leigh are responsible for the attack since they are mere terrorist. The cabinet secretary enacted Operation Salaam Watch policy which was to curb the said terrorist. During the interview, the refugees were asked to express their feelings concerning them being labeled as the terrorist and the policy enacted.The study was able to determine that majority of refugees in Kenya(East Leigh) fled their country due to the conflicts and fear to be ranked in Al-Shabaab group.They concluded that they are in Kenya to seek protection not to be a security burden and also they feared al-Shabaab ranking hence they have nothing to do with them. Regarding the policy, the research was able to conclude that the policy harasses the refugees.

Summary of the study

This report is an account of a survey carried out among Somali refugees mainly settled in urban areas (East Leigh).As stated in the abstract, the main aim of this study is to determine whether refugees in Kenya are an economic asset or are they security burden to the nation and Kenyan government policies towards Somali urban refugees.

Both the interviews and focus group discussion techniques were used as a data collection. Data from the sources was triangulated to enrich the findings. The following are the major findings of the study:

According to UNHCR 2015, Kenya hosted420,283 refugees by 31st Aug 2014 of which 332,455 are in Dadaab, 55,050, Kakuma, 33,164 Nairobi. Those refugees in urban areas were a result of flooding in the camp which led in insecurity ranging from the kidnapping of aid workers to IED25 explosions (UNHCR 2012).

Kenya’s Department of Refugee Affairs declared that all asylum seekers and refugees from Somalia living in Kenya’s urban areas should move to Dadaaband that all refugee registration in urban areas should cease. The other reason refugees moved to urban areas was the desire to have better living conditions and employment. Since then, NGOs have been reporting many cases of police harassment, arbitrary arrest, abuse against women and xenophobic attacks.

A recent impact evaluation of refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya (Nordic Agency for Development and Ecology, 2010) which hosts one of the largest refugee populations in the world, estimates it has annual direct and indirect benefits to the host community and country too. According to UNHCR report, one of the positive contributions that refugees make to host countries is skills and knowledge that can be utilized for the benefit of local people that lead to economic growth.

The closure of Dadaab camp and the repatriation of Somali refugees will have a detrimental economic effect on the North Eastern province, in particular, the Garissa district where the camp is located. Enghoff et al. (2010) report shows that the Dadaab camps on a yearly basis contribute approximately $14m to the surrounding community. As commissioned by the Kenyan, Danish and Norwegian governments, the annual turnover of Dadaab refugee-run camp-based businesses is around $25m.As claimed by Enghoff et al., 2010: 45-47, these are significant numbers that cannot be ignored more so in North Eastern region of Kenya that is poverty-stricken.

Recently, Kenya has been facing insecurity and as a result, some government officials stated that Somali refugees in urban areas are responsible for the attacks (East Leigh).Also, Kenyan government argued that refugees camps mainly dadaab are used by terrorist to attack the country.To curb the terrorist, Kenya government enacted Operation Usalama Watch.According to the interviewed refugees,the security operation has led to the arrest of many refugees and asylum-seekers of different nationalities in widespread swoops not only in East Leigh and Nairobi but other urban areas.  Those arrested have subsequently been arrested and forcibly relocated to the refugee camps. These unfortunate events also acted as an excuse to rape, beat, extort money from, and arbitrarily arrest, at least 1,000 people by the police who described these victims as “terrorists,” and demanded payments to free them (Human Rights Watch, 2014:2).  Some 3,000 refugees were relocated to camps though most of them subsequently returned to urban centers where for many years they have been securing their livelihoods (UNHCR-Kenya, 2015:8).

Refugees living in East Leigh exist largely without identification card or material support from the Government of Kenya and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This means that they lack the proper documentation and ,therefore, suffer harassment from the police concerning their status.


CHAPTER ONE: Outlining the Research Topic; the change from Economic Asset to National Security Threat

1.1. Introduction

The Kenyan operation to counter terror known as ‘Usalama Watch’ has made the Somali community in Kenya an easy target (Amnesty International, 2014:4).  Somalis, concentrated in EastLeigh Nairobi for example, were previously stereotyped as being excellent business people, as creators of small companies, employment and opportunities for investment. Despite them (Somali refugees) being associated in the illegal status, Somali piracy and crime, overall they were viewed as an asset to the Kenyan economy.  Kenya’s participation in the war on terror began in 2011 when troops were sent to Somalia to fight against the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab (The Guardian, 23rd September 2013: np). Since then, Somali refugees in East Leigh have been associated with violent crimes, terrorism and a threat to public and national security (Rasmussen, 2014:1). The issuance of a directive in March 2014 aimed at the encampment of all refugees, including the estimated 31,164 refugees residing in urban areas were claimed to be responsible to the developing security setbacks facing the country. According to a report by Daily Monitor (16 April 2015), the government of Kenya believes that the refugee camps are being used by Al-Shabaab terrorists to plan attacks in the country hence preparing to close the camp.

Throughout the 1990s, Somali refugees  transformed East Leigh from a predominantly residential area into an effervescent profit-making business center ranging from real estate,  import–export businesses to retail outlets (from small-scale hawking and street stalls to shopping malls) (Pavenello et al., 2010:22-23). The transformation of East Leigh into a commercial zone has led to competitionamongst businessmen forcing out Asian traders, who initially controlled the activities (Campbell, 2006: 402). Not only does the retail malls in East Leigh used by individual consumers but also larger commercial businesses for a wide variety of goods. The smaller shops that sell other items are also predominantly owned by Somalis (Pavenello, 2010: 24). According to Farah Abdulsamed, an analyst at Chatham House, a think-tank in the United Kingdom, the Somali trade centered in the Nairobi suburb of East Leigh has had a positive market transformation felt far beyond Kenya and Somalia to the Gulf States and Central Africa. As stated by Abdulsamed, 2011: 7, East Leigh is at the center of a network of trade that connects the Arabian Peninsula, Somalia, Kenya and East and Central Africa, with the Somali business community as the common thread. He further argues that not only the emergent Somali investment in Nairobi has attracted several banks and other service providers; the urban refugees are not a burden on the state but are an economic asset (Abdulsamed, 2011: 3).

On the flip side, Kenyan officials seek to promote the issue of security due to the large numbers of refugees residing in urban areas. An example is the late Assistant Minister for Internal Security in Kenya, OrwaOjode, who once likened the predominant Somali community in East Leigh to an Al-Shabaab enclave in Kenya. He told the parliament that Al-Shabaab is like a snake with its tail in Somalia and its head in East Leigh (NRP, November 18th, 2011).

The Equal Rights Trust (ERT) 2011 report state that Kenyan Somalis are subject to direct discrimination with respect to citizenship and identity hence undergo rigorous procedures before they can be issued identity cards and passports. For example, applicantshad to produce their parents’ and grandparents’ identification documents, a requirement that does not apply to individuals of other ethnic groups” (ERT, 2011:79-80).Besides, to acquire a Kenyan passport, those that have a Somali appearance or have an Arab origin have to undergo a screening interview conducted by the National Security Intelligence Service in Nairobi (ERT, 2011:80).Monitoring the flow of refugees into the camps has been hard due to the adjacency of the Kenya-Somalia border and the fact that it is hard to differentiate Kenyan-Somalis and Somali-Somalis who share some physical characteristics as well as language. (Kirui, &Mwaruvie, 2012; 161)

Regarding the Somali refugees situation, questions arise in the Kenyan government considering security risks and economic growth brought by refugees.The government is willing to repatriate about half a million people with constituting a heavy nucleus of the capital’s economic development under the guise of national security concerns. Melanie Teff, a senior advocate and European representative for Refugee International, called on the Kenyan government to change its discriminatory encampment policy for refugees hence include Dadaab in its development plans to realize significant economic and human benefits. As posted by The Guardian (18th April 2012), the 500,000 Somalis in the camps should be integrated into Kenya's economy as part of a development plan for the country's north-east instead of being a burden.

As declared by Hovil, 2007:604, refugees flee from areas of conflict while many governments see them as a security threat that could disturb the safety of the country and needto be observed in camps. Some official positions of the Kenya Government support that urban refugees are an economical and security burden on the city and, therefore, should be forbidden from living and working in Nairobi. As stated by the Standard Digital, 11th July, 2014, a speech by the former Cabinet Secretary of Interior and Coordination of the National Government Joseph Ole Lenku said that safe return of Somali refugees to their country will pave way for infrastructural, institutional development and reforms that will enhance democratic growth and governance in their country.

1.2 Problem Statement

This study will explore the paradox that Somali refugees are the security risk, and the Kenyan Government wants them out of the country, their contribution to the Kenyan economy and their departure can damage the economy.For instance, the economic transformation of East Leigh has brought competition to the marketplace, driving down the cost of goods and services and generating employment, including for non-Somali Kenyans (Abdulsamed, 2011).The Somali businesses offer lower prices,and the shops are often used for storage, sleeping and selling. Many individual consumers, large commercial and medium sized traders, rely on retailers in East Leigh (Abdulsamed, 2011: 7). Despite this being a benefit for citizens and the government, Kenya still faces the issue of humanitarian involvement and the need to control its borders for security purposes (Kirui, &Mwaruvie, 2012:161). As a result, it is imperative to investigate the factors involved in labelling Somali refugees as a security threat for the Kenya government and the fact that they contribute in economic growth.This study will also reflect on how Somali refugees have responded to such shifts in labelling, in the context of existing, sometimes inconsistent, policies and practices with regards to Somali refugees in Kenya. 

This study seeks to investigate the factors that influence the Kenyan government to label Somali refugees as a security threat and their contribution to the economy. The study will explore how policies and practices with regards to Somali refugees overlap and contradict one another. The study will look at how different positive and negative labels are resisted or accepted both in official policy documents, and the views of Somali refugees on such shifts in language and labelling. This approach helps us to understand how economic and security issues interplay in the compound labelling of Somali refugees in East Leigh Kenya.

1.3 Contextualizing the Problem

The international community’s obligation to the refugee question since the early 1990s has concentrated on the mass influx of refugee emergencies, delivering humanitarian assistance and encouraging large-scale repatriation programs in high-profile regions. Today, more than two-thirds of refugees’ populations are not in emergency situations rather entombed in protracted refugee situations (Troeller, 2008:3). A large number of these cases are found in some of the world’s poorest and unstable regionsand originate from some of the world’s most fragile states which include Somalia. As indicated byTroeller, 2008:4,refugees trapped in these situations often face significant restrictions on a broad range of rights, and the continuation of the refugee problem frequently gives rise to some of political and security concerns for host states and states in the region

Kenya has a history of hosting refugees. The refugee populations (mostly Ugandans) by the year 1988 were approximately 12,000 in Nairobi. According to Campbell, 2006: 399,the refugees enjoyed full status rights; the right to reside in urban centers and move freely throughout the country, the right to obtain a work permit and access educational opportunities, and the right to apply for local regional integration. However, the political situation and crises in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia, in 1991–1992 and later in Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), led to an extensive flooding of refugees into Kenya. According to research done by UNHCR Kenya (2013-2015), it shows that Somali refugee population; 10th January 2013 was 474,037, 6th January 2014 was 477,491,31st January 2015 was 477,491 and on 31st August 2015 was 420,283. Figure 1.0 below demonstrates the historical movement of Somali refugee population in Kenya from the year 2013 to 2015.



Sources: UNHCR Kenya (2013-2015)


Lindley (2011:4) argued that the hostility to the idea of a strong Islamist State in Somalia propelled foreign intervention under the guise of the War on Terror further exacerbating and transforming the Somali civil war. These factors in combination with environmental problems created a renewed displacement and refugee crisis. Governance failure and political violence also prompted other problems. The drought in 2011 caused havoc in its wake slowing the process of intervention as legislation by the US government prevented aid from reaching Somalia further worsening the humanitarian crisis. According to Lindley (2011:5), the rejection of Western influence and that of donors’ restricted international aid to Al-Shabaab held areas because they are considered to be a terrorist organization exacerbated the crisis. “As of early October 2011, there were some 908,000 Somali refugees registered in neighboring countries, with Kenya hosting some 511,000 – more than half. With the number of Somali refugees nearly treble what it was in 2006, dealing with this situation will remain a key political issue in Kenya in the months and years to come” (Lindley, 2011: 5-6)

The increased number of refugees under the Kenya Government’s refugee protection program led to the government to lack interest with refugees’ issues. As per  Verdirame 1999; Crisp 2000; Kagwanja 2002; Horst 2003; Verdirame and Harrell-Bond 2005 arguments, the Kenya government response to the pre-1991 refugee situation in Kenya was more hospitable, highlighting the importance of local integration, the post-1991 administration became less accommodating with xenophobia increasing and prospects for regional integration declining.

Despite signing and ratifying the 1951 Refugee Convention and OAU Convention about refugees, Kenya has still been unable to develop its national refugee law. The refugee law deals with the rights and protection of the refugees.It has instead relied on a variety of ad hoc policies and prevailing immigration rules and regulation to respond to refugee issues. The most popular system that can be pointed out in dealing with the refugee question after the influx of refugees in 1991 is that of the encampment policy. The Kenyan authorities agreed to accept the new refugees but on the condition that the refugees reside in chosen camps (Horst 2006; Hyndman and Nylund 1998; Verdirame 1999).  Two refugee camps, Dadaab and Kakuma, were established in 1991 to contain the thousands of refugees streaming into Kenya (Kirui&Mwaruvie, 2012:161).

However, Amnesty International (2014) and Human Rights Watch (2014) reports indicate that the Kenyan Government policy on forced encampment and involuntary is a contravention of Kenya’s obligations under international law. The two major refugee camps in Kenya are congested and insecure with no provision in place to accommodate the tens of thousands of people expected to be in the camp as a result of forced relocations to camps. “Food is scarce, access to education and health services are extremely strained, and there is little space for people to find shelter” (Amnesty International, 2014).On 31st Aug,2015, Kenya registered 420,283 refugees of which 332,455 were in Dadaab, 55,050, Kakuma,33,164 Nairobi (UNHCR,2015). In the same year, UNHCR came up with a total estimate of refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya. The diagram below shows a total number of refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya as of 2015.


Figure 2: Overview of refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya


4. The Research Aims and Questions

As showed earlier at the start of this chapter, the research is based on Somali refugees in Kenya. Mainly, on the economic benefits of Somali refugees in Kenya, i.e. East Leigh and its growth as a business area and  how Somali refugees are being viewed as a security threat from within the ‘war on terror’ security policy framework. This study links these two fields to show that while Somali refugees may be labelled as a threat; this does not always eclipse awareness of their potential and past economic contributions to Kenya.

The contexts of this study are the existing policies and practices of the Kenya government about the Somali Refugee question. The main objective is to investigate the factors responsible for the Kenya government relabeling Somali refugees as a security threat despite their significant economic contribution to the country. Also, the study contributes to fresh insight into the politics of identity, and how correct labelling can reinforce – or not – negative and positive stereotypes of refugees, making them more or less vulnerable as the case may be. The following are the study questions:

What tensions between economic and security interests, have led the Kenyan government to relabel Somali refugees as a risk to security, rather than an economic asset? And how is the negative ‘security threat’ label challenged by Somali refugees?


a) What are the characteristics of Somali refugees in Kenya?

b) What were the main Kenyan government policies towards Somali refugees over the past decade?

c) What factors explain how positive economic labels have been replaced with more negative security-related labels of Somali refugees?

d) How are these negative labels contested by Somali refugees and other actors involved?

1.5. Study Overview

This paper is divided into five chapters. The first chapter covered the features of this study mainly the problem of research, the contextual background to the problem, objectives of the study, research question and sub-questions. The second chapter discusses extensively the study approach and the research methods that were applied in the collection of relevant data. These details include the choice of the study area, the choice of interviews and focus group discussion as a form of data collection and the methods. The chapter concludes with the analysis of ethical issues and challenges encountered in the field during the research process. In chapter three, the literature review and theoretical approach to labelling, Stigmatization and Stereotypes are used to explain the factors that influence the view that refugees are a burden as opposed to being beneficial to the host government. Rather than treating refugees simply as a burden, host governments, and the international community should recognize that refugees can contribute to economic growth and development. Chapter four focuses on the findings obtained from the field study. The results are expressed with the four sub-research questions, and interlinked with the theory in the paper. In this chapter I discuss the characteristics of the Somali Refugees in East leigh, Kenya, the Kenyan government policies, practices and discourses towards Somali refugees in urban areas and I also elucidate on factors that explain how these discourses and labels come in to play, how these labels are resisted or accepted by refugees, especially in local discourses about their economic activities. The last chapter presents the theoretical and policy implications of this study.


CHAPTER TWO: Methodology

2.1 Introduction

This chapter looks at how the fieldwork and research analysis were informed by the context of Somali refugees in Kenya. It also looks at the instruments used for data collection and challenges encountered. The approach employed is a qualitative tradition since it is more open to a plethora of perspectives and can achieve more depth. As stated by O’Leary (2014:130), thequalitative tradition calls on inductive, deductive logic; appreciates subjectivities; accepts multiple perspectives and realities and does notshy away from political agendas.

2. Choice of Research Location

The Study Area is East Leigh in Nairobi, Kenya. East Leigh hosts a large population of Somali refugees, who have been ‘integrated’ into society and earn their livelihoods from conducting business in the area.  They are under pressure from the government to go back to the refugee camps. According toHyndman 2000; Moret et al. 2005), around 100,000 in the mid-1990s are refugees in urban areas (Kenya). However, the actual figure is uncertain. Most refugees end up in East Leigh district located in the Far East part of the Central Business District of Nairobi (Goldsmith 1997; Sirola 2001). East Leighis an area popularly known "Little Mogadishu”. It is well known for a peculiar economy due to its strong commercial sector, and it is dominated by refugees who are mostly Somali. As stated by the Norwegian Council for Africa (NCA), anyone would be forgiven for thinking they are right inside Somalia as they walk within East Leigh area of Nairobi. The population is almost Somali, save for a few indigenous people mingling in between (Norwegian Council for Africa, 2008)

To achieve objectives, goals and answer the research questions of the study, secondary and primary data was used. The secondary data was based on a comprehensive review of literature where preliminary information from the statement of the problem, journal databases and general search engine to find existing research on the refugee crisis and the impact of labelling on refugees and actors dealing with the refugee situation was used.

The primary data comprised semi-structured interviews and focus group discussion on having a clear understanding of the tension between economic and security interest’s debates about refugees. It also covered how the Kenyan government labels Somali refugees, and what have been the latter’s responses. Interviews with stakeholders were organized and analyzed their input in line with the research question and sub-questions.

2.3. Instruments for Data Collection

As a result of the paucity of data that can corroborate various claims on the clash between security and economic interests of the Kenyan government, the most suitable instruments for data collection for this study are interviews and focus groups discussion. Laws (2008: 286) state that interviews offer the platform where respondents can talk about delicate issues that they may not be able to express in a survey. An interview guide was constructed around the main and sub- research questions, serving as a rough structure for discussion to guide the respondents in addressing the elements of interest to the study. Also, it ensured a certain degree of freedom for participants to develop their discourse in the way that they found meaningful for the discussion. Semi-structured interviews were opted since analysis is straightforward, and questions are asked in different ways (Laws, 2008:287).This guaranteed the authenticity of responses and allowed each respondent to cover what was significant to them regarding the topic and areas of discussion. Interviews with two government officials in different capacities and institutions and 15 interviews with refugees from various age groups were conducted.

2.4 Conducting Interviews

 According to Lester, 1999; Smith, 2004; Creswell, 2012 a study needs a data based on authentic experience and not pre-determined assumptions. To attain this,I explored the life of Somalis living in East Leigh before conducting interviews.  The aim was to keep an open-mind when conducting interviews by concentrating on how ethnic Somalis understood and qualified to live in East Leigh as a result of the Kenya government response to Al-Shabaab threat.

The approach to the interviews was inductive, with the interview guide that allowedthe respondent to elaborate their views. I opened up the conversation to a broader, and more reflected perception of label and narrative of refugees as a burden to Kenya.To give voice to Somali women, I organized a focus group discussion with the help of an assistant who has worked and still collaborate closely with Somali women. As stated by Kamberelis & Dimitriadis 2013; Liamputtong 2011, group discussions are arranged to discuss a particular issue, mainly to understand how a group of people feel about a particular issue, in this case, the negativeimpact of labels and how it affects them as a group.  However, the method is not flawless since because some participants may bedishonest in expressing their personal opinions on the topic at hand due to personal reservations, especially if they hold a different or opposing view. Nevertheless, the aim of using focus group is not to generate a consensus (Hennink, 2007), but rather to encourage a plethora of perspectives that might help in having a deeper understanding of the impact of labelling of Somali refugees on their lives. To ascertain success during this process, the focus group discussion was based on gender with seven participants. This approach was grounded in the cultural and religious norms that limit women from being as vocal in the presence of their male counterparts.

2.5. Sampling Method

In framing the study sample, purposive sampling technique was used to select the participants from the Somali refugee community in urban areas for focus group discussion, interview respondents, the interviews conducted with the Kenya government officials and officials from UMMA a community- based organization dealing with refugees living in urban areas. This sample technique was suitable for this research as it involves selection of a sample with a precise purpose in mind and augments learning by exploring the restrictions or limitations of a situation or phenomenon (O’Leary 2010: 161-162). Besides, accessibility of respondents and their availability to participate also formed the main basis of selection. This sampling strategy was based on the low number of readily accessible refugees and considering that majority of the refugee respondents are thought to be illegal in urban areas, the idea of being considered a security threat made this strategy more applicable.

2.6. Selecting respondents

Since the assumption of this study is that the Kenya government anti-terror strategies have a negative effect on the image of Somali refugees in Kenya, I wanted to find out more about the Somalis refugees who may have had different views to that of the government on the issue of security in Eastleigh and Kenya as a whole. In collision, I interviewed people with different experiences and different viewpoints. Most of the refugees interviewed in East Leigh only spoke the local dialect (Somali language) hence could not speak English, but with the help of a translator the interviewing process was made simple. To ensure that the translator was not biased, I sought one that is in the employ of the community based organization and is not a refugee. The duration taken o interview and focus on group discussion was four weeks. Despite being a Kenyan, I needed someone familiar with East Leigh to help me in accessing the refugees and the community- based organization.  With the help of Hassan, translator also set up interviews with 15 urban refugees and found five women that participated in the focus group discussion I added two women hence was able to interview twenty-two (22) Somali refugees and two government officials bringing the total to twenty- four respondents who participated in both the interviews and the focus group discussions. The focus group discussion comprised seven women and for the one on one interview, there were seven men and eight women.

Figure 3: Summary of Objectives, Research Questions, Methodology and Data Sources

Research Objective

Research Question

Method of Data Collection

Sources of Information

To investigate the factors responsible for the Kenya government to relabel Somali refugees as security threat despite their significant economic contribution to the country.

Given the tension between economic and security interest, how does the Kenya government relabel refugee? and how is the negative ‘security threat’ label challenged by Somali refugees

Semi-structured interview.


Focus Group Discussions.

Peer reviewed scientific papers, policy documents,


Relevant Government Officials,


Somali Refugees

To Identify the  existing policies and practices of the Kenya government in relation to the Somali Refugee question

What are the Kenya government policies and practices with regard to Somali refugees?

Review of secondary data.


Semi Structured Interviews


Review of Policy Documents


Government officials


How are Economic and Security Interests reflected in labeling

Semi-structured Interviews

UMMA CBO officials

To investigate how identity construction reinforces stereotypes and labelling

What are the characteristics of Somali Refugees in East leigh, Kenya

Focus Group Discussions

Kenya Somali ethnic group and Somali- Somali Refugees


2.7. Procedure and Data Analysis

Participants were met individually and offered a briefing regarding the goals and scope of the study. They were guaranteed confidentiality and anonymity of the responses and informed of their right to withdraw from the study at any time. The options of consenting interviewed whether verbally or in writing were presented to the respondents. However, all were consented verbally. The length of interviews varied between respondents and took about half an hour to forty minutes. The focus group discussion on the other hand, lasted an hour. None of the respondents agreed to be recorded, and most of them choose their first names if they were to be referenced in the study report. Subsequently after the transcription of interviews and that of the focus group discussion I carried out a content analysis through which the predominant themes in participants' responses were derived.

2.8. Ethics and the Scope and Limitations of the Research

This study aims to look at how the perception of Somali refugees in Kenya has influenced the Kenya government policy development in dealing with the refugee issue. This came with some limitations: Finding personnel working for the government willing to divulge if policies in place that deal with refugees are driven by security or economic interests. Also, accessing refugees willing to share their opinion on how they are viewed and treated by the local populace and government of Kenya. The followingare the limitations that I faced in the field were:

a) Paying refugee respondents for information. They were paid five hundred Kenyan shillings for participating in the interviews.

b) Accessing government officials as they were not keen on being interviewed based on the sensitivity of the topic

c) Accessing officials from HIAS who had originally been the non-governmental organization that was going to be used since they deal with urban refugees.

d) Finding a gender balance when it came to the refugees I interviewed. The readily available refugees were mostly women which made the data have a bias of sort.

e) Collecting data daily became expensive making time spent in the field shorter that is four weeks rather than the anticipated five to six weeks.

To deal with the above limitations, the following approach was implemented:

a) Accessed some refugees earlier than desired to reduce the amounts of money used to pay them.

b) To get the general idea of senior official thoughts on the issue of refugees being an asset or national security burden, I talked to the readily accessible government officials and official from UMMA (community based organization)

c)To create gender balance, Somali men participated in the study.

e) Allocation of specific days for data collection was meant to cut down costs of transportation.

2.9. Conclusion

The approach to the research has eliminated biases and misrepresentation of data that most often occurs during qualitative research process since the relevance of the data collected from the field to the research questions was considered.The next chapter looks at the link between refugee governance and labelling and identity construction.


CHAPTER THREE: Labelling and Identity Construction in Refugee Governance

3.1 Introduction

3.2. Labelling in Refugee Policy and the Construction of Identities

 Labelling in refugee policy has been related to short-term political horizons that provide easy categories to compartmentalize results. As articulated by Gupte and Mehta (2007:67),experience has shown top-down labelling policy to feed on such labels to deliver primary needs-driven interventions, limiting efforts therefore to physical protection at best.When someone is labelled, they are socially excluded and positioned to enact the role that has been assigned to them by the label hence the functioning of labelling breeds violence. These labels and categorizations create different interpretations for the people charged with making and implementing policy on the ground, the communities and the labelled groups. Somalis refugees have been categorized and labelled not only as criminals but as a security threat to the Kenyan Society while they are subject to violence and need protection hence specific labelling can provide. Jenkins (1994:197) says that categorizations are influential in the creation, reproduction of social identities and have the power to change materially lives. As Jenkins (2000:7) maintained, the impact on the identity of categorization depends not only on cognitive internalization, but also on its consequences, and the capacity of actors to make their identifications of others count.

When contending with refugee populations and their corresponding social identity, the deconstruction of social stigma is central for a host country to be able to provide intended safety. The appearance of the Somalis brings ethnic differences to some Kenyans, considered that they are labelled security threat. Although Somali refugees in East Leigh are somehow financially stable, many of them are jobless,therefore; the class difference is encountered between the Kenyans considering them as refugees.The diagram below aids in understanding how all concepts discussed earlier interlink.



3.3. Global Refugee (Governance) Regime

Global refugee regime is international cooperation where states are obligated to offer safety to refugees. As posted by Haddad (2008) and Suhrke (1998), it is in the interest of international security that people are fleeing their countries, whether temporarily or permanently should be safe. Itincorporates the decision-making procedures, principles, rules, and norms that govern the responses of various states to refugees.It consists of a set of standards, primarily those that are deeply-rooted in the 1951 Convention concerning the status, rights, and definition of refugees.However, as a concept it has been viewed and perceived in many ways by scholars, For instance,Whitaker (2008:241) described the concept of refugee regime as a sole reflection of state interests, Kuyper (2014:627) argued from the neorealist or the neoliberal philosophy, which defines the refugee regime as concerned with formal rules and their usefulness in furthering liberal agenda.

As stated by Jochim and May 2010:304, members in several regimes usually do not attend to chaotic policy trepidations that cut across different governance or policy arenas. They also argue that members of refugee regimes have different ways of defining problems.

As noted by Betts (2010a:1), there is no global migration governance, migration, unlike other trans-boundary matters (e.g. Environment, finance and trade) that lack an effortlessly distinguishable global institutional framework. Nevertheless, Betts maintains that global refugee regime remains the expanse of migration governance with a strong formal multilateralism (Betts, 2010a:2. The establishment and empowerment of the Office of the (UNHCR) has an administrative obligation to ensure that States parties meet their obligations and commitment concerning refugees (Loesscher et al., 2001; Betts et al., 2013).In Global refugee regime,there are two major obligations in the framework of refugee regime: asylum and burden-sharing. Asylum means that a state has an obligation to accept refugees that reach its territory while burden-sharing epitomizes the duty of states towards refugees who are not in their territory but that of other States, and this can be through resettlement of some of the refugees into their territory or by providing financial support to states that have refugees in their territory.

Accepting refugees is perceived as an additional cost to the economic, social, and political costs by some states hence international refugee law exists. The law creates a set of norms that obligates governments to a reciprocal commitment to support refugees.

According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, a refugee is a person outside their country of nationality or residence, who may have no nationality and is unwilling to go back to their country due to fear of oppression or discrimination on the grounds of race, faith, social representation or political ideology (94 Stat 102). As Loescher (1993:11) claims, refugee movements constitute one of the most important and difficult problems facing the international community in the post-Cold War era. The advent of the cold-war refugee movements have become more normalized and have occurred on a much larger scale due to the combination of increased political support (host communities have had positive experiences with refugees) and an intensification of violence on a mass scale around the world. The movement of refugees has contributed to political change itself with a good example being the outflow of refugees moving from East Berlin to the West, which initiated the fall of the Berlin Wall (Loescher, 1993: 11). The effect refugees are able to have is largely because mass movement across international borders forced upon populations through the implementation of state sanctioned and other forms of violence, have intensified. Loescher says that, “it is now clear that we are living in an era in which fundamental political and economic changes in the international system result in large-scale movements of people” (1993: 1).However, refugees are termed to impose a burdenon hosting countries hence entrenched in various governmental and humanitarian discourses emerging primarily with the term ‘refugee burden’ (Zetter, 2012: 50).In a 2004 essay entitled Why Asylum Policy Harmonization Undermines Refugee Burden-Sharing,Thielemann claims that the term is used to describe not only the intensive increase of refugee applications in the mid- 1980’s, but also the disproportionate distribution of asylum applications among countries.According to Thielemann, “average annual asylum applications per head of population have been more than ten times higher in some of the most popular destination countries such as Switzerland and Sweden compared to the least popular ones such as Spain and Portugal” (2004: 47). As Schuck (1997) claims, the differences on the side of the host countries include their national needs assessment process, criteria for allocation protection, the market for refugee protection quotas and international authority. The diverse policies on the part of the host countries function to determine the level of hospitality they are willing to extend towards refugee populations often working against the surface of perceived hospitality that in practice is not entirely in line with the political commitment to host refugees in the first place. This kind of contradiction in political stance and actual policy covers up the real and differing political position that is increasingly emerging: the belief that hosting refugees is a burden for host countries (Schuck, 1997: 246). According to Schuck (1997:276), the success of a proportional burden-sharing system depends critically on the relatively powerful states’ ability to use this advantage more skillfully and forcefully to induce broader participation in the system as refugee flows increase.

3.4. Refugees as an Asset: Economic Approach to Refugees

According to Jacobsen (2002), refugees have the potential to make extensive positive contributions to both the society and the economy of their host country if given the correct infrastructure and resources. Some countries think that refugees could bring economic gain in the long run (Zheng Nil, 2015). For example, Germany is the only European country willing to accept refugees since it is facing demographic issues of an aging and shrinking population. The country relies on immigrants to fill the working age population and to stabilize the state pension system as more Germans retire. Even without a worker shortage, refugees are not burdens because they play an important role in creating new jobs. Studies have shown that refugees are more likely than other groups to open small businesses because they are less likely to have a job waiting for them in the host country, compared to other immigrants moving to countries where they already have job offers. Rather than treating refugees simply as a burden, host governments, and the international community should view refugees as agents of development.

 According to De Montclos and Kagwanja (2000),the influx of refugees functions as a stimulus to the development of social, political policy and social life through the mobilization of resources. For instance, the use of natural resources by refugee communities in Guinea led to local agricultural activities. Similarly, the Sudanese refugees around Gambelai in Ethiopia were hired to work in state owned cotton plantations; the Ugandan refugees in Southern Sudan in the mid-1970s formed a supply of cheap manpower hence increased farming output. In Eastern Sudan, Eritreans around Kassala have also contributed to the twelve fold increase in fruit and vegetable production in t (De Montclos&Kagwanja, 2000: 206-207). In Kenya, the amount of returns that Somali refugees contribute to the Kenyan economy is quite substantial and opportunities have been created amongst the refugees themselves as traders and consumers.

3.5. The Refugee Burden Debate

Refugees are perceived as an additional cost to the economy, social, and political in the host country. As posted by Zheng Nie, 2015,some countries argue that refugees take advantage of public services before contributing to the economy. On average, a country has to spend about $119,000 per asylum seeker each year, and it usually takes years to settle one refugee (Zheng Nie, 2015). The host countries' taxpayers are left to pay the hefty toll. Additionally, countries fear that refugees could take jobs from locals and raise the unemployment rate. In this case, refugees became a burden to the host citizens. Refugees usually start with low-skilled jobs in the host country because of language barriers and then move to more advanced positions as they become acclimated to the new country's culture. Considering costs and efficiency, companies are more willing to employ refugees, and, therefore, the locals lose in the job market.

3.6. Conclusion

The impact of refugees on their host country depends on how the country deals with them. Researchers think that refugees have a better impact on the local economy if they are allowed to work before their cases are settled, which sometimes takes a long time. They create economic value by working, and the money they earn from the jobsalleviates the economic burden of the host country. However, other people think that refugees are a burden that isn’t since there are reasons behind. As seen in the research, some refugees are mainly due to conflicts in their countries. For instance, Kenyan refugees from Somalia are mainly because of conflicts.

CHAPTER FOUR: Relabeling Somali Refugees: Contending Perspectives

4.1 Introduction

Among the countries ranked by “Global Terrorism Index” in 2014, Kenya was ranked as number twelve, one of the highest-ranking  countries affected by terror (Global  Terrorism  Index,  2014,: 8). Targeted for more than two decades by various groups, Kenya now faces a constant threat from the Al-Shabaab, the Somalia based Islamist terror organization that has threatened its national security (Lindley, 2011; Laing, 2013; Franklin, 2015). The response of Kenyan government to tackle the problem is to control the Somali refugee inflow, many of whom have integrated into society and settled down as urban refugees in East Leigh, one of Nairobi neighborhoods (Herz, 2008: 1-9). The consequence of such action has been widespread discrimination against ethnic Somalis living in Kenya either as urban refugees, refugees in the camps or as citizens (Lind  & Howell,  2010; The Equal  Rights  Trust, 2012; Campbell,  2005; Lindley,  2011:21). Although, on several occasions this claim has been rejected by the Kenyan government and President Uhuru Kenyatta (Sahara Tribune, 2014), the findings of this study demonstrate the contrary reality of the plight of Somali refugees.

In this chapter, the findings of the four weeks field study in East Leigh are discussed. This chapter is divided into two sections; first the characteristics of Somali Refugees and the Kenyan government policies, practices and discourses towards Somali refugees in urban areas.

4.2 What are the characteristics of Somali Refugees in Kenya?

As most asylum seekers and refugees continue to find themselves in neighboring countries, and just a few in the West, civil war and political subjugation remain the most dominant factors that lead to such occurrence (Bhui et al., 2006:400).Most of the Somali refugees flee their countries due to political persecutions. Secondly,In Somalia, the situation of civilians in areas controlled by Al-Shabaab is of major concern to international communities, as political decrees affecting many aspects of social behavior, recruitment, severe punishment and taxation rules become the order of the day (Lindley, 2011:4). According to some refugees interviewed, they fled their country since Al-Shabaab militants forced them to join their ranks. As per interview, some refugees reviewed that they fled their country due to environmental issues.According to Myers (2002:609), these are people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and other environmental problems.

While the core of Somalia’s problems is internal conflicts, the majority of the population has left Somalia because of directly or indirectly situations in the country. The characteristics of Somali refugees are related to their reasons for leaving their home country with the majority of the respondents stating their reasons for moving as being linked to environmental issues and persecution by the Al-Shabaab terrorist group.

4.3. Kenyan government policies towards Somali refugees in urban areas

The ongoing Kenyan government security sweep against Somalis has generated various reactions as the Kenyan government has vowed to repatriate illegal Somalis back to their country and those suspected of having ties with Al-Shabaab must be deported from Kenya (African Argument, June 23rd, 2014).The issuance of the directive to encamp all those refugees residing outside the campsthat are located in the North-Eastern part of Kenya in a manner views refugees as being a threat (African Argument, April 2nd, 2014)

Insecurity in Kenya has been a bother to many Kenyans. Many Kenyans including the government think that both in refugee camps and other towns are the main cause of insecurity. The Daadab and Kakuma Refugee Camps are the two main camps in the Country and were established in early 1990sAccording to Standard Digital News 24th May 2014 report,Kenya’s security has been faltered due to violent and explosive attacks. As a result, Operation Usalama Watch was introduced on 2ndApril, 2014. The main aim was to curb terrorism and nab suspected illegal aliens, who former Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Ole Lenku had blamed for insecurity. The Operation Usalama Watch was started after an explosion took six lives in East Leigh, a bustling urban neighborhood in Nairobi (Standard Digital News, 11th April, 2014).Operation Usalama Watch has received much public support as it is seen as the only way through which we shall regain some sanity. It also enjoys support as some Kenyans believe that the insecurity being witnessed in the Country is due to the presence of refugees from Somalia.

4.4. Conclusion

In conclusion, many Kenyans believe that refugees are the main cause of insecurity in Kenya. Operation Usalama Watch has received a lot of support from Kenyans to curb terrorism. According to the research, the main cause of the refugee’simmigration their country (Somalia) are internal conflicts, environmental issues and persecution by the Al-Shabaab terrorist group.


CHAPTER 5: Influencing Factors and Reaction of Somali Refugees to Negative Labels

5.1. Introduction

According to Gupte and Mehta, 2007,refugee burden contributes to the social stigma that negatively depicts refugees as devalued subjects. To explain the factors that influence the view that refugees are a burden as opposed to being beneficial to the host government, this chapter bring to the fore the voice of the Somali refugees by sharing their experiences. It has two parts; the first part is to gather their experiences so that we address the factors that explain how these discourses and labels come into play. While the second part examined how these labels are resisted or accepted by refugees, especially in local discourses about their economic activities.

5.2. Factors explaining the play of discourses and labels

To understand the effect of the Kenyan government representation of Somali refugees and reactions of the refugees to the label allotted to them and local discourses especially about their economic activities, relevant questions were asked in both the focus group discussions and the interviews. As stated by the refugees interviewed, many of them have been facing harassment from the police due to lack of Identification Cards.According to Gupte and Mehta (2007:64), the primary factor that leads to the stigmatization of migrants and refugees comes hand in hand with the processes of categorization that impose labels upon them in the first place. The host country develops a negative idea regarding the refugees hence consider them as a burden.

As stated by Moncrieffe’s (2006:42), labels influence stigmatization and discrimination that generate fear. As stated by some refugees during the group discussion, they are stated as the security threat for the country hence continuous the harassment and confiscation of their goods by the police. Although many Kenyans support Operation Usalama Watch, refugees don’t seem to. As stated by an interviewee, the policy has led to harassment and even loosing Job opportunities since due to lack of ID and increased bribes.

5.3. Reactions to labels by refugees in discourses on economic activities and being a security threat

Somalia Refuges have been labelled as security threat to the country.Despite thousands of them have been detained while approximate of 500 deported in 2014 as a result of security sweep by the government, they resist the stereotype of being terrorists and continue to assert their right to live and work in the neighborhood (Rasmussen, 2014:1).According to the interviewee, the resistance that they are not terrorist is some reasons that made them flee their country is fear of being ranked as Al-Shabaab members hence if they were terrorist they could have stayed in their homeland and attack from there.

The refugees stated that some politicians use the issue for personal gains. As stated by Lovejoy and William (1997), and Murshid (2013), politicians capitalize the refugee situation to blame it for an array of long- standing problems.Politicians imbibe the altitude of scapegoating them for creating economic predicament of their constituencies, adding to unemployment and creating a myriad of the social problem. However, some refugees have gone to look for greener pastures in places like East Leigh which has led, to economic growth.

5.4. Conclusion

The refugees stay in urban areas (East Leigh) contributes not to the Kenyans economy but also Sudan since they set remittances.With labelling and stigmatization being rampant in East Leigh, the chapter has showed that their efforts to progress are hindered by the labels imposed on them by society.



6.1 Policy recommendations of the study

The findings of this study answer the research questions. The research also presents the following recommendations that are based on the research and its analysis; The Kenya government should be mainly considering refugees as an asset i.e. they lead to economic growth rather than being labeled as security threats to the country. The government should ensure that Operation Usalama Watch doesn’t harass them rather curb terrorist, the reason it was founded.As noted earlier in the study, refugees’ affairs are presently handled in an ad hoc manner. As long as this situation obtains, the police will continue harassing them. The Refugee Bill must be revisited to resolve the problem for it is hardly possible for a people whose life is uncertain to invest in any form of viable business. 

 The government should also ensure that refugees are protected considering the International Refugee Law. As explained in the research, many refugees fled their country due to internal conflicts hence looking for protection. The government should opt to enact the national refugee law that is under Global refugee regime hence protection of refugees is assured. More investment to refugees should be done since it leads to increased economy growth.Refuges will work hard considering that some don’t have anything left in Somalia, and they consider Kenya their home. The government should also change its counterproductive encampment policy for refugees and includeDadaab in its development plans. Doing this, Kenya could reap major economic and human benefits from refugees.

6.2. Conclusion of the study

Impacts of refugees in Kenya are both positive and negative as stated by officials interviewed. Moreover, Kenyan government ministers have made persistent calls for the Somali refugees to be "resettled" inside Somalia (The Guardian 2012: np).According to the former President MwaiKibaki during theFebruary's London conference on Somalia, “Kenya can no longer continue carrying the burden of refugees”. However, is it true that the refugees in Kenya are a burden? If Kenya's government approached the refugee issue as part of its development strategy, it could benefit as a host country.Kenya government sending almost half a million refugees back to Somalia is politically and logistically impossible more so for the future. Also, any forced returns will attract international condemnation hence destroying its reputation as a generous refugee host (UNHCR 2012).

Despite the Kenya government declaring Somali refugees as a security risk, a threat to national security and wanting them out of the country, the Somali refugees has a high impact on the urban and camp economy hence their departure can hurt the Kenyan economy(UNHCR, 2015). An economic stimulus is generated by the presence of refugees which leads to the opening and development of the host regions. This stimulus can be through the local purchase of food, non-food items, shelter materials by agencies supplying relief items, disbursements made by aid workers, the assets brought by refugees themselves, as well as employment and income accrued to the local population, directly or indirectly, through assistance projects for refugee areas. The presence of refugees also contributes to the creation of employment benefiting the local population, directly or indirectly. 

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