The Nairobi Landscape

Working with RefugePoint in Nairobi, we are fortunate enough to meet thousands of refugees who are amazing examples of courage, strength, ingenuity and even optimism despite the difficult pasts they have and the demanding circumstances they are currently in. Humanitarian organizations and research institutions have produced multiple reports highlighting the challenges refugees, particularly those in urban areas, face (Hidden and Exposed: Urban Refugees in Nairobi; Hidden in Plain View: Refugees Living Without Protection in Nairobi and Kampala).

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that there are 46,000 registered refugees living in Nairobi as of 2010. Many refugees however, are not registered and therefore other estimates are closer to 150,000. Often it is these unregistered refugees that are the most vulnerable. Some have been trafficked and are locked in their homes, others are too sick to move in the city, others only speak their native language and are therefore unable to communicate. These are all problems which sometimes prevent refugees from registering with UNHCR, the UN agency created to handle people fleeing their country on account of persecution and physical insecurity.

Whether recognized as refugees or not, people fleeing persecution who make it to Kenya face issues which include but are not limited to lack of legal rights, financial insecurity, health problems and tensions with the host population. Refugees in Nairobi definitely deal with all of these issues on a daily basis and RefugePoint staff work to try to mitigate these problems.

Although we assist as best we can, one thing I have learned more acutely than ever while working at RefugePoint is that refugees are resilient — they have to be. Nairobi is a tangled web of people, traffic, food carts, matatus (public transport vans), police, markets, and everything else that one would expect of the largest city in East Africa. Navigating through that web, especially as a person who has fled violence and is not afforded the same rights as citizens, is impressive. Doing that with a smile on your face, as some of these refugees do, is remarkable.

The neighborhood of Eastleigh where the majority of refugees in Nairobi live