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Kenya’s government requires citizens over the age of eighteen to register with the National Registration Bureau and obtain a national ID. Failure to obtain one is not only illegal, but citizens who are denied IDs are reduced to second class status or de facto statelessness. For the Nubian, Kenyan Somali, and coastal Arab minorities who are unable to prove they are citizens by birth, the standard is higher and far more arbitrary in practice. Recent initiatives by the Nubian community have had some positive impact on their situation.

Current Humanitarian Situation
Under Kenyan law, refugees cannot naturalize and children of unknown origin who might otherwise be stateless, including some orphans and street children, are not automatically granted citizenship. Security concerns, as well as discrimination against groups with historical or ethnic ties to other countries, force minorities to endure arbitrary, biased scrutiny and unnecessary long delays in order to obtain citizenship. 

Although the Nubian minority has resided in Kenya for over a century and now numbers close to 100,000, they are not one of the 42 officially recognized ethnic groups. Nubian applications are routinely scrutinized by a “vetting committee”, comprised of security and immigration officials, as well as community elders. The committee presumes applicants are non-citizens until proven otherwise. The coastal Arabs are also subject to vetting committees, and they reported an increased level of discrimination against them following September 11th. Somalis, particularly members of the Galjeel community, a sub-clan of about 3,000, report being stripped of their citizenship and bribed in order to obtain an ID.

Fortunately there have been some recent signs of progress. National institutions are taking steps to streamline the registration process, construing national identification as a right rather than a privilege. In 2007, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission published a report on national ID card issuance, with recommendations for legal and administrative change. Following the 2007 election, officials must now consider new legislation to enhance citizenship rights of minority groups, women, children, and refugees.

Field Reports
  • 09/09/2014
    Somali refugees in Kenya are facing pressure on multiple fronts. Earlier this year, the Kenyan government announced that all urban refugees must report to refugee camps. At the same time, the government launched a security operation aimed at rooting out alleged members of the Al Shabab terrorist organization from Eastleigh, a predominantly Somali neighborhood in Nairobi. Together, these two initiatives opened the door to increased levels of abuse, extortion, and harassment of refugees by the Kenyan police. This comes as the Kenyan government is publicly urging large-scale returns of Somali refugees even though the humanitarian situation inside Somalia is deteriorating severely.
  • 11/07/2013
    In the wake of fragile security gains, the prevailing story of Somalia these days is one of progress. The terrorist group Al Shabab was forced from control of the country’s major cities more than two years ago, and Western donors are eager to support the country’s new president. In the past year, rebuilding and economic development in the capital, Mogadishu, has flourished. And yet, in spite of this growing stability, more than one million Somalis remain displaced within the country. In Mogadishu, the United Nations estimates that there are some 369,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in makeshift camps. Some camps are teeming with thousands of families, whereas others consist of just a few dozen people living on private, undeveloped lots. As the city develops, many of these IDPs are being forced from the places that have been their home for years – sometimes decades.
In Depth Reports
UNHCR increased the number of protection officers deployed to Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camps after RI called the program “vastly under-staffed” in December 2011. RI, however, continues to push for greater resources for protection of refugees in Dadaab, especially for vulnerable groups such as children.