Feeling the Pinch: Kenya, Al-Shabaab, and East Africa’s Refugee Crisis

Avery Burns


Kenya currently hosts over four hundred thousand refugees.
In the last two decades it has turned towards a policy
of containment in an attempt to confine refugees to its two
rural camps, Kakuma and Dadaab. Kenya’s tolerance for
the ongoing refugee problem which peaked in the 1990s
due to major conflicts in the region is waning and concurrently
issues of national security are growing. The Somali
armed faction, Al-Shabaab, has been reportedly infiltrating
Kenya’s Somali refugee community. Recently, there
have been reports that the government of Kenya has been
covertly recruiting Somali refugees to return to Somalia to
fight against Al-Shabaab. The use of refugees by Kenya to
counter the threat of Al-Shabaab demonstrates a new perception
of outside threats and suggests that Kenya is now
willing to sacrifice ideals of humanitarianism to secure its
border with Somalia. The border remains officially closed
but thousands of refugees fleeing the violence in Somalia
continue to pour into Kenya.
To understand why Kenya is taking such a hardened
stance towards refugee populations, it is important to
comprehend Kenya’s strategic importance in East Africa.
Secondly, in the complex relationship between internal
factors and international pressures, one can discern the
friction between adhering to the human rights of refugees
whilst remaining a global player in the war on terror. A
comparison of Kenya’s past treatment of refugees to its
present position suggests that the nation’s most significant
priority is national security, and not remaining a haven for

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