Using socio-economic analysis to inform refugee programming in Turkana, Kenya

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Community leader Paul Gok (left), a refugee from South Sudan, walks with young children in the ‘Kakuma 4’ area of ​​Kakuma refugee camp, built to house new arrivals from South Sudan. © UNHCR/Will Swanson

In Kenya and in refugee-hosting countries in Africa, the camp-based model of protection and humanitarian assistance has been the default response to often protracted situations of forced displacement. The underlying assumption was that it would be impossible or undesirable for refugees to be self-sufficient while waiting for peace to return to their country of origin.

It is therefore not surprising that refugees from South Sudan and other neighboring countries in northwest Kenya are being assisted in the Kakuma refugee camp, which has hosted refugees since the early 1990s. Several waves of refugees have come and gone over the past 25 years, with the most recent influx from South Sudan beginning in December 2013. The camp has grown into four subsections with a capacity of 125,000 people but a current population of over 155,000 people. As in the majority of protracted situations, care and maintenance programs in Kakuma included the provision of access to housing, food, water, healthcare and education.

In some circumstances – particularly in the context of a mass influx – the camp-based model of assistance is the most appropriate short-term initial response. The camps offer the opportunity to provide effective and efficient health and nutrition interventions to asylum seekers in dire health and nutrition situations.

In the context of protracted displacement situations, however, the camp-based model of assistance has had a number of unintended consequences. Most refugees in protracted situations end up becoming aid dependent, unable to support themselves even after solutions have been found.

For example, before the crisis erupted in December 2013, FAO colleagues in Juba observed that after more than 20 years in Kakuma, South Sudanese refugees had lost their agricultural skills. Unable to support themselves, many returnees became part of the urban poor or had to return to refugee camps.

While refugees depend on aid, the communities hosting them are often ignored. One of the striking features of the Kakuma camp is the stark disparity in living conditions between the refugees and the host population. Turkana has the highest level of poverty in Kenya and refugee programming has failed to meet the pressing needs of the very people who provide refugee protection. Due to poverty, members of the host community settle on the outskirts of the camp, becoming day laborers employed by the refugees.

In addition to being dehumanizing, the camp-based model of care and maintenance is no longer financially viable. The pool of ‘humanitarian money’ that has been used to meet humanitarian needs around the world is no longer sufficient as new crises erupt and old ones worsen. Offering asylum – one of the oldest traditions of civilizations – was to welcome people fleeing evil and provide a space to live normally in harmony with others until the decision was made to return or leave. to stay. It was not about parking or storing people. This is, in a way, what an initially well-intentioned humanitarian response has become.

It is the need to change the camp-based model of assistance that is the rationale behind UNHCR Kenya’s support for the World Bank study: “YES” IN MY YARD? Refugee economy and social dynamics in Kakuma, Kenya. Using an innovative methodology, the task force collected social and economic data and analyzed the socio-economic impact of hosting refugees in Turkana.

In addition to filling research gaps on this topic, the study’s findings challenged conventional thinking by showing that refugees have boosted overall economic activity and are associated with better nutritional outcomes in the community. ‘Home. The strength of the study is that it went beyond a generalized impact assessment to present a more nuanced picture using disaggregated data. For example, the impact of the market on agriculture and housing is positive, but negative on livestock.

For UNHCR in Kenya, the study was useful in several ways. First, it provided the data and evidence needed to improve the quality of – often emotional – conversations about refugees in Kenya. Policymakers, government officials at national and county levels, civil society and other stakeholders can use the study’s findings and evidence to inform the mainstream conversation on refugee issues.

For UNHCR in Kenya, the findings of the study will inform our efforts to improve our response to the refugee situation in Turkana. The study’s findings that the economic integration of refugees will increase per capita incomes of hosts by 6% will inform our policy dialogue with the Government of Kenya on the socio-economic rights of refugees. We can now say that providing Turkana refugees with freedom of movement and the right to work is not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do. Providing refugees with freedom of movement and the right to work is not just a matter of human rights and dignity, but rather a critical policy reform needed to fuel Turkana’s economic growth.

The findings of the study will also inform UNHCR Kenya’s strategic response to emergencies and protracted refugee situations. They already inform the design and implementation of the Kalobeyei Integrated Social and Economic Development Program (KISEDP), a multi-agency collaboration to develop the local economy and service delivery in refugee-hosting areas of Turkana County. In addition, the study also paved the way for collaboration between UNHCR Kenya and IFC’s Africa Fragile and Conflict Initiative team.

The “Yes” report in My Backyard? : The Refugee Economy and Their Social Dynamics in Kakuma, Kenya” was supported by the Global Program on Forced Displacement.

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