Creating a domestic refugee regime in Kenya: The transfer of responsibility for refugee affairs from UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to Government of Kenya

As part of the Lunchtime Seminar Series, the African Centre for Migration & Society invites you to a seminar titled Creating a domestic refugee regime in Kenya: The transfer of responsibility for refugee affairs from UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to Government of Kenya by Claire Walkey (Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford).

It is widely accepted that the protection of refugees in Africa is highly determined by host states. The everyday role and street-level activities of the African state in refugee affairs however remain under-researched. This is despite the fact the last decade has seen a move away from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) as a ‘surrogate state’ and African governments are now increasingly taking over crucial bureaucratic functions related to the management of refugee affairs. This seminar focuses on Kenya where this handover process is particularly contested and drawn out. It firstly outlines the everyday practices of the Refugee Affairs Secretariat, within the Government of Kenya, in registering refugees in Nairobi and the paradoxes and contradictions this mundane and routinized activity reveals about the state’s interaction with refugees. Secondly, it discusses the impact of a UNHCR project, ostensibly to capacity build the government, had on government refugee registration practices and argue that it did little to facilitate the government’s independent engagement with refugee affairs and was instead an attempt by UNHCR to resolve its perennial tension between ensuring refugee protection, respecting state sovereignty and meeting its own institutional interests.


Claire is a DPhil student, affiliated to the Refugee Studies Centre.

Her doctoral research explores the transfer of the management of refugee affairs from the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to the Government of Kenya. It focuses on the re-engagement of the government in refugee affairs since 2006 and more specifically the transfer of registration and refugee status determination from UNHCR to the government. Drawing on ethnographic research, it aims to contribute to ethnographies and theories of the African state and developmental change.

Claire holds an MSc in Refugee and Forced Migration from the University of Oxford, an MPhil in Development Studies from the University of Cambridge and a BA from the University of Bristol. In mid-2018 she will be a visiting student at the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of Witwatersrand.

She is a recipient of a full studentship from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) UK.

Claire is also interested in the impact of biometrics on refugee registration and co-convened a workshop entitled ‘Deconstructing Biometric Refugee Registration, hosted by the Refugee Studies Centre, in June 2018.

Date: Tuesday 31 July 2018

Time: 12.30 -13.30

Venue: ACMS Seminar Room 2163, South East Wing, Second Floor, Solomon Mahlangu House, University of the Witwatersrand East Campus