Everyone was overwhelmed by the fears and the panic of the unknown disease”. Kenyan Refugee Protection and the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Kenyan Ministry of Interior recently urged international agencies to close down the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in Kenya, once again. This comes at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has already placed great burdens on the lives and livelihoods of refugees and intensified uncertainties. To better understand how the pandemic has affected refugees in Kenya, this paper discusses results from a recent qualitative questionnaire on refugee protection in light of COVID-19. We find that the pandemic has exacerbated existing challenges, and partly created new ones. Economic issues and the anxiety that accompanies them have intensified due to lockdowns, restricted movements and business closures. Aid was scaled down and funding cuts further complicated conditions. Although refugees are noted to be important actors in responding to the pandemic, resulting difficulties partly contribute to tensions among refugees, as well as between refugee and host communities. Refugees report an increase in the risks of violence as well as being stigmatized as carriers of the virus, in addition to continued competition over resources with host communities. Thus, risks for refugees would certainly intensify if the camps were to be closed. No matter how things develop further, the safety and representation of refugees should be at the front and center of any possible developments.