Protracted Refugees

Hassan and his family, refugees from Sudan, have now been in Kenya for over ten years. When one refers to a “protracted” refugee situation it is one in which the refugee cannot return home in the foreseeable future and is therefore in a state of limbo for at least five years — but often decades. According to the 2004 UNHCR definition, the lives of these refugees, “may not be at risk, but their basic rights and essential economic, social and psychological needs remain unfulfilled after years of exile.” These are situations with no prospect for a solution. And in many cases, their lives continue to be at risk.

Although usually it is the refugee camps which come to mind when one thinks of a protracted situation, refugees in Nairobi now fit in that category as well. Tens of thousands of refugees have been in Nairobi for more than five years and many have stayed closer to twenty years. These refugees cannot return home and do not acquire citizenship in Kenya. They live without stability and although many of them have tapped into some of the local networks of Kenya, they never know what will come the next day.

It is in order to help provide some solutions to this issue of protracted refugees that the practice of resettlement, or selecting refugees to leave their country of asylum and relocate to a safe country permanently, has been developed and utilized in some cases. In the resettlement country, whether that be the United States, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Norway or a host of other countries, there, the refugee will be afforded all the legal rights they deserve and have the chance to become a citizen of their new country. Unfortunately, resettlement opportunities are only available to a small portion of the refugees in need of such a solution.