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Hidden crisis

Kenya Crisis Watch

The International Rescue Committee provides vital support to refugees and Kenyan host communities struggling to recover from violence and natural disaster.

What's happening

  • Despite the huge economic and social pressure, Kenya continues to host close to 600,000 refugees and asylum seekers from neighboring countries, most from Somalia and South Sudan.

  • In May 2016, the Kenyan government issued a directive to disband its Department of Refugee Affairs.

  • The IRC and other aid groups in Kenya are urging the government to reconsider this directive and its intention to close refugee camps in the country.

Read our statement
Country facts
  • Population: 45.5 million
  • Refugees and asylum seekers: 598,646
  • Rank in Human Development Index: 145 of 188
IRC response
  • Started work in Kenya: 1992

Kenya crisis briefing

Kenya, located in East Africa, is home to one of the world’s largest refugee populations. The IRC helps vulnerable refugees rebuild their lives and provides support to host communities dealing with disease and internal conflict.

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What caused the crisis in Kenya?

In 2007, post-election violence erupted in Kenya, leaving 1,300 dead and 500,000 uprooted. Since then, the government has taken measures to restore power to the people. However, ongoing conflict and natural disaster continue to leave many Kenyans vulnerable to poverty and disease.

We are providing health care to refugees including young children. Photo: Nancy Farese/IRC

Kenya is also struggling to host hundreds of thousands of refugees escaping violence in Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia and other neighboring countries. Many refugees remain vulnerable to exploitation from violent groups.  

The Kenyan government announced in May 2016 that it would close its refugee camps, leaving the fate of the 300,000 people living in Daabab -- the world’s largest refugee camp complex -- uncertain. The IRC and 10 other humanitarian organizations working in Kenya have called on the government to reconsider the move.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Kenya?

Nearly 46% of Kenyans live in poverty, according to the World Bank, and millions of people need assistance finding food.

Natural disasters such as drought and floods threaten access to clean water, leaving many vulnerable to malnutrition and disease. In December 2015, a deadly cholera outbreak in the Dadaab refugee camp left hundreds infected.

Refugees face unique challenges, such as unsafe housing and police harassment. Women and children, in particular, are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation; many children are forced to work rather than attend school.

How does the IRC help in Kenya?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

IRC aid worker speaks to refugees living in the Dadaab refugee camp
An IRC aid worker speaks to refugees living in the Dadaab refugee camp. Photo: Sven Torfinn/SV

The IRC has been working in Kenya since 1992, providing health care, women’s protection, legal rights education and nutrition services to hundreds of thousands of refugees and their host communities. We also work with the Kenyan government to support health, nutrition and conflict resolution programs.

The IRC is focusing our efforts on the Turkana, Garissa and Nairobi Counties by:

  • providing emergency health care and supplies to refugees;
  • supporting community health projects that improve nutrition, sanitation and access to medicine;
  • educating people about HIV/AIDS and other diseases;
  • fostering conflict resolution to make communities safe for women and children;
  • providing primary education for children and specialized classes and job training for youth and adults;
  • advocating for the rights of refugees in the capital, Nairobi, and other urban areas.

What still needs to be done?

Download the IRC's Kenya strategy action plan to learn more about our program priorities through 2020.

Our impact

In 2015, the IRC and our partner organizations in Kenya provided:

311,000

people with primary and reproductive health services.

Our hospitals in Dadaab helped to save the lives of refugee children affected by famine in Somalia.

One boy's story
207,000

men, women and children with gender-based violence prevention efforts in their communities.

Women and children are extremely vulnerable to violence and exploitation. We’re working to ensure they are given the protection they need.

Explore our safety work.
7,900

people with awareness-raising sessions on improving government accountability.

We’re working to educate local communities on their rights and the principles of governance.

Read about power.

News and features

Rescue stories

  • I’m so happy that I can give back to my community everything that I have learned from Darling and the IRC"
    Susan was able to open her own salon with help from the IRC. Now she is giving back by mentoring young women in her community.
  • I learned that men stand to gain from a violence-free environment...and it inspired me to believe in myself as a man who can be a part of the solution to ending violence against women in my community."
    With training from the IRC, father of two Andrew Kusimba is working to raise awareness about violence against women and girls and promote equality in his community in Kenya.
  • [Daniel] has come a long way. When we first admitted him into the program, [he] couldn’t comprehend much...now he can hold a sound conversation with people."
    Alex, an IRC mental health officer, works with Sudanese refugee Daniel at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya to provide vital psychosocial support.