Fewer Kenyans Seeking Asylum Abroad

Fewer Kenyans sought asylum in the industrialised world in 2010 compared to previous years, mirroring the rest of Africa’s descending trend.

A UN statistical overview of asylum applications in 44 industrialised countries shows a continuing downward trend globally, bringing the figure down to nearly half the level at the start of the millennium.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report, “Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialised Countries 2010”, deals with new asylum claims and does not show how many individuals were granted refugee status.

According to the report, 358,800 asylum applications were lodged in industrialised countries last year – down five per cent from 2009, and some 42 per cent lower than the decade’s peak in 2001, when almost 620,000 asylum applications were made.

There were 538 Kenyans seeking asylum in USA and Canada in 2010 compared to 588 the previous year, marking a 9.3 per cent drop.

Kenya’s most prominent asylum seekers last year were human rights activist Philo Ikonya, Bishop Gilbert Deya and Ms Zeituni Onyango, an aunt of US President Barack Obama.

Ms Ikonya, a journalist and political activist, fled Kenya in 2009 and lives in exile in Oslo, Norway, while an immigration court granted Ms Onyango permission to stay in the US in May 2010.

Bishop Deya is still fighting court battles in Britain to avoid deportation to Kenya where he could faces charges of child trafficking.

In 2001, Britain rejected more than 800 Kenyan applications for political asylum, accepting only 90.

In 1999, Britain’s Home Office reported that the number of Kenyans seeking political asylum had increased from 605 in 1998 to 885 that year. This was the first increase since the introduction of a visa requirement for Kenyans in 1996.

The Home Office statistics also showed that large numbers of Kenyans were applying for asylum while already in Britain, which may partly explain why it has been difficult for Kenyan students to get permission to study in the UK.

But Kenya, being a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention, the 1967 Protocol and the 1969 Organisation of African Union Convention, also continues to offer protection to refugees and asylum seekers.

The Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) took over the reception and registration of all asylum seekers from UNHCR on March 1, 2011.

Besides Kenya, downward trends in asylum applications were recorded in the African continent, with Zimbabwe and Nigeria posting drops of 69 and 29 per cent, respectively.

Somalia, which occupied the third spot in 2009, fell to sixth in 2010. Putting the latest numbers into the context of recent emergencies in Côte d’Ivoire and Libya, High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres noted:

“Overall, it’s still the developing world that is carrying the lion’s share of responsibility for hosting refugees.

“Despite their many other challenges, countries like Liberia, Tunisia and Egypt have kept their borders open to people in need. I call upon all countries to support them.”

In 2010, people from nearly 200 countries or territories submitted at least one asylum claim in one of the 44 countries presented in this report.

Slightly less than half of all asylum applications were from Asia (45 per cent). Africa was the second most important source continent, contributing 25 per cent of all claims, followed by Europe (19 per cent), and the Americas (8 per cent).

Europe was the only continent showing an increase as a source of asylum applications in 2010, recording a 19 per cent jump, with more people from Serbia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia requesting refugee status in 2010 than in 2009. The country of origin of some 3,000 asylum-seekers was unknown.

“We need to study the root causes to see if the decline is because of fewer push factors in areas of origin, or tighter migration control in countries of asylum,” said Mr Guterres.

The United States remained the largest asylum recipient for the fifth consecutive year, accounting for one out of every six asylum applications in the countries covered in the report.

The US saw an increase of 6,500 applications, partly due to a rise in the number of Chinese and Mexican asylum-seekers. France maintained second position, while Germany was third.


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