Abstract

This article examines the legal status and economic livelihoods of refugees in Nairobi, focusing on Somalis, the largest urban population residing in the city. The results of the study challenge the Government of Kenya's (GOK) official position and the popular local perception that refugees are an economic burden, and show instead that these urban refugees are economically self-sufficient. Despite this economic independence, conditions for most refugees in Nairobi are extremely difficult. Urban refugees live largely without material assistance or legal protection from the GOK or UNHCR, are vulnerable to police arrest at any time and face high levels of xenophobia from the local population. By highlighting refugee self-sufficiency in Nairobi, this article lends support to the idea of local integration as a viable, durable solution to their situation of protracted exile.

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