World Refugee Day: Play Your Part

Jun 20, 2023 | Events | 0 comments

Photo by Ninno JackJr on Unsplash

This article was written by Amanda Chenai Makombe to commemorate World Refugee  Day. She is a NOREC Exchange Participant (2023) based at Youth Alive! Kenya. She is a creative and a thought leader.

Imagine your country is invaded by terrorists and a war strikes unprepared. Imagine a tribal conflict heating up so hard you have to leave your home to a foreign country. These imaginations are realities, life scenarios so daunting one has no choice but to pack their entire life into a suitcase and relocate to a foreign land.

As we celebrate World Refugee Day let us remember those fleeing from conflict, those who have been displaced by drought and immigrants coming to look for work. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) a refugee is a person “who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence.” Refugees face a lot of challenges that include access to health services, education, employment, affordable housing and social protection services.

Results from the 2020-2021 Urban Socioeconomic Survey reviewed challenges that urban refugees in Kenya face include inadequate housing, refoulement, harassment, extortion, vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), human smuggling and trafficking.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees on their Global website cited that Kenya is the second top refugee hosting country in Africa after Ethiopia. These refugees lack access to basic services, and mostly social protection services. In Kenya, Social Protection has been defined as a set of policies and actions including legislative measures which seek to enhance the capacity and opportunities for the poor and vulnerable to improve and sustain their livelihoods and welfare. These include refugees who are at the bottom of the social pyramid susceptible to vulnerability and marginalization.

Although an active instrument is in place (The Kenya Refugee Act 2021) still, urban refugees face barriers to social and economic integration. Their access to financial services is restricted because of lack of proper documentation thereby bank account opening or mobile money registration such as M-pesa remains a futile attempt. For economic survival one needs to send money, secure money and even save money to start a business.  Access to financial services eases day to day financial transactions and allows productive actions that  can improve livelihoods. 

Youth Alive! Kenya and ActionAid International Kenya have partnered for a project called Strategic Partnership Agreement Phase II. The project aims to support urban refugees in Nairobi Informal Settlements to advocate for Gender responsive public services and programmes. The project also focuses on holding governments and humanitarian actors accountable. Our humanitarian led activities have enabled urban refugees to benefit from provision on dignity kits and cash transfers.

However, urban refugees do have access to cash assistance programs from humanitarian services but limited access to formal jobs. Kenya‘s legislative framework contains provisions for refugees’ rights to work but securing a job is difficult. Discrimination, language barrier and lack of recognized qualifications come into play and as a result many urban refugees engage in informal or low-skilled jobs to sustain themselves and their families. Many refugee women are involved in market vending, domestic work or manual labor. These jobs often offer low wages, lack social security benefits and may expose them to exploitative environments.

Efforts should focus on facilitating access to Gender responsive public services especially on health and education, easing the documentation process, promoting livelihood skills and enhancing social integration for urban refugees. Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive and multisectoral holistic approach involving governments, organizations and the local communities. By taking these giant steps urban refugees have a chance to Hope away from Home. Collectively we should strive to foster political support and allocation of resources for refugees to not just survive but to thrive.


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