Key mixed migration characteristics

Key mixed migration characteristics

Kenya is a critical hub for mixed migration in the region. It is primarily a country of destination and transit for hundreds of thousands of people in the regional mixed migration flow, but is also to a more limited degree a country of origin for some migrants.

Mixed migration cases include forced migrants, involuntary migrants, economic migrants and bona-fide refugees particularly from South-Central Somalia.

Kenya hosts the largest refugee population of Somalis (over half a million) as well as a high number of Ethiopians in the two camp complexes of Dadaab and Kakuma.  2011 witnessed a dramatic rise of refugees from Somalia as the drought combined with civil conflict forced a mass exodus into Kenya and Ethiopia.

In addition Kenya is a regional hub for smuggling and the obtaining of false documentation necessary for creating new identities or visas. Many Ethiopians and Somalis enter as irregular migrants and settle in parts of Nairobi with the intention of looking for work and / or moving on to other countries. In 2009 the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that some 20,000 Somali and Ethiopian male migrants are smuggled to South Africa, mostly via Kenya every year.

The U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report 2012  states that Kenya is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children for the purposes of forced labor and sex trafficking. This is corroborated by other reports and studies such as ‘Termites at Work’ by the International Peace Institute. Kenya is also a country of internal forced migration with thousands of IDPs (Internally Displace People) still displaced today following the 2007-8 post- election violence and other prior inter-ethnic clashes. In addition Kenya’s capital Nairobi attracts migrants from rural areas seeking to find menial jobs for survival.

In terms of Kenya being a country of origin, most cases of migration involve educated Kenyans leaving for educational or business opportunities in the COMESA, EAC countries as well as North American and European locations. In some instances the movement is facilitated by irregular means organized by smugglers utilising scheduled bus or flight services.


Migrants from Kenya are also found in the mixed migration flow to the Gulf countries specifically Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. Agencies based in Nairobi recruit young Kenyans with promise of better pay. Press reports indicate that upon arrival, their passports are confiscated and the promised job may not necessarily have the same terms agreed upon, they are allegedly being forced into domestic servitude upon arrival.  They further complain of being subjected to serious violations such as sexual harassment, violence, torture, starvation and other cruel and degrading treatment. It is not clear how many people are affected by these activities which appear to be related to various labour violations bordering on trafficking. Following these reports of abuse, in 2012, Kenya imposed a ban on its citizens travelling to the Gulf countries to work in the domestic sector.

Most recent statistics

The highly porous border that Kenya shares with Somalia, Ethiopia and Southern Sudan, has long served as a convenient entry and exit point for migration flows, and continues to do so whether the borders are officially open or closed. The Kenyan military operation in South-Central Somalia in the later part of 2011 has resulted in tightened border control and a decreased number of Somalis crossing into Kenya via this entry point.

Refugees and Asylum-seekers in Kenya

Total refugee population hosted in Kenya is approximately 630,926 [1];

Refugees and Asylum-seekers in Kenya

Total refugee population hosted in Kenya is approximately 564,933 [1];









By location










South Sudanese





Total asylum seekers in Kenya = 41,820 [2]

Total Kenyan refugees worldwide = 8,948 [2]

Total Kenyan Asylum Seekers worldwide = 1,454 [2]

Main drivers and motivation for migration

Mixed migration in Kenya has been characterized by the influx of Somalis, Ethiopians and South-Sudanese since the early 1990s, when all three regions were either in state of conflict and/or suffering from drought/famine. Most who came then were bona fide refugees being accepted on a prima facie basis; the rising number of Somalis refugees remains the key characteristic.

The recent trends include a high number of economic migrants, reflecting a growing aspiration of many in the region to find a better life outside their country but it also reflects the extent to which public officials may be colluding with and facilitating smugglers, traffickers and individuals seeking to bend or break national laws.


At the beginning of 2012, Kenya had a total country population of 41.6 million according to UNDP statistics.  A significantly better poverty ranking than most of its neighbours, makes it an attractive destination and transit country for those in mixed migration. According to UNDP the poverty level index was assessed to have a Multidimensional Index % of 0.229 and a Human Development Index of 0.519, ranking Kenya number 145 out of 187 countries.

As a country of mixed migration origin

UNHCR provides data for Kenyan refugees and people in refugee like situations worldwide (see above). However this does not account for the Kenyans who are in irregular migrant situations. According to the U.S. State Department Report on Trafficking in Persons 2012, Kenya is a country of origin. There have been other reports/studies to this effect but no statistic can be conclusively stated.

As a country of mixed migration destination

Most of those entering Kenya are escaping harsh, oppressive and undesirable conditions elsewhere (primarily Ethiopia and Somalia). A majority seek refugee in Kenya while an unknown, but estimated significant number, use the country as a point of transit en route to the South or North. Kenya hosts one of the largest Somali refugee populations in the world. Somalis have been granted prima facie refugee status since the early 1990s. Recently there have been calls by the Government of Kenya for the relocation of Somali refugees back to Somalia. Public opinion since 2012 has shifted following a spate of grenade attacks on civilians. Currently, there is a pending court case stopping the Government of Kenya from relocating urban refugees to Dadaab and Kakuma camps. Moving forward the GoK has planned a conference of the issue in August 2013 with indications that the relocation of Somali refugees from the camps would be effected in mid-next year (2014).


Additionally, Kenya has a large Ethiopian refugee population, mainly from the Oromia and Ogaden regions which border Kenya. Until the recent repatriation of the South-Sudanese, Kenya also provided refuge to a large population of this group. Concluding from this, Kenya’s relatively stable and less oppressive regime (that reportedly turns a blind eye to many irregular migrants), porous border and strategic location in the Horn of Africa make it an attractive country of destination.

As a country of mixed migration transit

At present there is no verifiable data of those transiting through Kenya, either smuggled or trafficked. However, given its geographical location in the region, porous border and somewhat ineffectual efforts to control borders and regulate migrant movement, it is clear that Kenya’s role as a point of transit for both the Northern route and Southern route is of high regional importance.

Characteristics of migration (means and modes)

Somalis, Ethiopians, and to some extent Southern Sudanese, who come from bordering countries, take advantage of Kenya’s porous border, crossing into the country either on their own accord or facilitated by smugglers and/or brokers. They travel on foot, or use vehicles between the countries. The populations living at the borders often share a common culture and language, as well as trade links between themselves, making these crossings easier but particularly in Ethiopia and Somalia, the number of brokers/smugglers offering to manage migrants’ journeys are high.


There have been instances of some migrants ‘buying’ their passage on private cargo planes (usually carrying khat) from South-Central Somalia to Kenya. Those migrants handled by smugglers and leaving Kenya for Southern Africa frequently use vehicles and boats to get to Tanzania as their first leg of their journey south.

Risks and vulnerabilities of mixed migration in Kenya

Although Kenya hosts over half a million refugees the conditions in the refugee camps are not ideal with overcrowding common and a strict encampment policy. In most cases the displacement is protracted and refugees can expect to remain in the camps for long periods without the opportunity to access higher education, travel, employment or to start businesses.

Because of the reportedly significant numbers trafficked and smuggled through Kenya, it is clear that vulnerable groups, especially women and children are at risk of physical and sexual abuse and extortion. This is a regular cross-cutting element in these kinds of situations. Those that cross the porous border are often harassed by the Kenyan police who extort bribes even from those who would qualify as bona-fide refugees such as Somalis to whom a prima-facie status is accorded. These individuals have to, in some cases, make long journeys on foot through harsh climates. In Somalia they also risk being caught up in the conflict between the Al-Shabaab militia and the Kenyan army which has been active since the latter part of 2011.


Apart from cases of bribery and extortion some irregular migrants and asylum seekers have faced detention and deportation but the numbers overwhelm the Kenyan authorities and they struggle to control the migration issue.

National immigration laws and policies

The following legislation is of particular importance in the area of mixed migration:

·         International conventions: Kenya is a party to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its Protocol, the OAU Refugee Convention and the Palermo Protocols. Kenya did not sign the Kampala Convention or the Migrant Workers Convention.

·         National legislation (immigration): The Citizenship and Immigration Act (2011) addresses all matters of migration and citizenship, in line with the new Constitution and ratified international conventions.[1] The Kenya Citizens and Foreign Nationals Management Service Act (2011) established the Kenya Citizens and Foreign Nationals Management Service, which is responsible for the administration of the laws relating to (among other areas) registration of citizens, immigration and refugees.[2]

·         National legislation (asylum): The Refugee Act 2006 and the associated The Refugee (Reception, Registration and Adjudication) Regulations, 2009, categorise refugees as either statutory or prima facie. With regard to statutory refugees, it adopts the definition from the 1951 Convention with the addition of sex as a ground for persecution.[3] The act established the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) within the Ministry of Immigration, replacing the Refugee Secretariat previously set up under the Ministry of Home Affairs.[4] Currently, the 2011 Refugees Bill – the successor to the Refugee Act 2006 - is under consideration.

·         National legislation (internal displacement): The Prevention, Protection and Assistance to Internally Displaced Persons and Affected Communities (IDP Act) provides a comprehensive approach to addressing internal displacement caused by conflict, other forms of violence, natural disasters and development projects, irrespective of the location and tribal affiliation of IDPs. The IDP act outlines the institutional framework, roles and responsibilities for state and non-state parties.[5] The Ministry of State for Special Programmes (MoSSP) was designated as the institutional focal point, including for the resettlement of IDPs and the coordination of disaster risk reduction programmes.[6]

·         National legislation (smuggling and trafficking): The Counter-Trafficking in Persons Act lays down stringent punishments for those involved in such crimes. According to the act, offences include the promotion of trafficking, acquisition of travel documents by fraud or misrepresentation, facilitation of entry into or exit from Kenya, interference with documents and travel effects, and trafficking in persons for organised crime. Victims of trafficking shall, according to Section 14, not be criminally liable for any offence related to being in Kenya illegally or any act that was a direct result of being trafficked.[7] The act became operational in October 2012 and has been in use since then.


Government policy


Despite passing the Counter-Trafficking in Persons Bill, the US Department of State places the Government of Kenya on its Tier 2 Watch List for a number of reasons:[8]

·         Limited prosecution of traffickers: Kenya only prosecuted just two cases of trafficking during the reporting period, which is insufficient given the high numbers of migrants and the trafficking that takes place through and on its territory.

·         Ongoing official complicity in human trafficking: Kenya has yet to take meaningful action against the active involvement of some law enforcement officials in trafficking.[9] Corruption or complicity by officials makes it easy for trafficking agents and unsuspecting victims to obtain travel documents, including registration of false marriages, to aid acquisition of passports.[10]

·         Inadequate protection and assistance: The government failed ‘to fully enact its anti-trafficking law’s implementing regulations, finalise its national plan of action, provide shelter and other protective services for adult victims, take concrete action against alleged incidents of child sex tourism, monitor the work of overseas labour recruitment agencies, or provide adequate anti-trafficking training to its officials, including diplomats, police, labour inspectors, and children’s officers’.[11]


Nevertheless, there have been some positive developments in the country’s anti-trafficking framework. With regard to trafficking of children, for example, the US Department of State concluded that Kenya had taken significant steps in enacting programs to help victims, both physiologically and in the provision of legal representation. The government’s children’s officers made efforts to identify and protect trafficked children throughout the country.[12] A study commissioned by SIDA[13] also concluded that ‘the legal and policy framework with regard to child rights in Kenya has improved tremendously in recent years’.[14] The Ministry of Gender and a local NGO jointly operate a national 24-hour toll-free hotline for reporting cases of child trafficking, labour and abuse.


[1] Ngunyi and Oucho, 2012, p. 80-85.

[2] Ngunyi and Oucho, 2012, p. 86.

[3] RCK, 2012, p.21.

[4] RCK, 2012, p. 21.

[5] IDMC, 2012, p. 8.

[6] IDMC, 2012, p. 8.

[7] Ngunyi and Oucho, 2012, p. 89.

[8] US Department of State, 2012a, p.205.

[9] US Department of State, 2012a, p.205.

[10] Solidarity Center, 2007, p.13.

[11] US Department of State, 2012a, p.205.

[12] US Department of State, 2012a, p.205.

[13] The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

[14] Tostensen, Stokke, Trygged, and Halvorsen, 2011, p. 152.

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