Self-reliance and Social Networks: Explaining Refugees’ Reluctance to Relocate from Kakuma to Kalobeyei

Alexander Betts, Naohiko Omata, Olivier Sterck

Journal of Refugee Studies, Volume 33, Issue 1 (2020), Pages 62–85


The authors investigate the reasons why refugees have been consistently reluctant to relocate from the Kakuma refugee camp in north-east Kenya to the newer Kalobeyei refugee settlement, 3.5 km away. This reluctance is confounding since Kalobeyei offers a range of livelihood programs and integrated services provided by aid agencies to both refugees and host communities, and the Kalobeyei model has been shown to lead to better socio-economic outcomes for the settlement’s residents.

The authors employ a mixed-methods approach, including a survey of 1,976 adults living in and around Kakuma camp, semi-structured interviews and focus groups conducted between September and December 2016. Participants included Congolese, Somali, South Sudanese, Rwandan and Ethiopian refugees as well as members of the local Turkana host community.

Main findings:

  • Refugees and local hosts seem relatively well informed about Kalobeyei: 87 percent of refugees and 71 percent of Turkanas have heard about the initiative. However, many refugees lacked detailed information about the Kalobeyei settlement.
  • Most surveyed refugees are not interested in relocating to Kalobeyei, even if land is provided. Among those who had heard about the Kalobeyei settlement, only 7 percent of refugees expressed interest in relocating there. The proportion of refugees who were interested in Kalobeyei rose to 16 percent if agricultural land was to be provided.
  • The most common reasons for not relocating to Kalobeyei are fear losing access to social services (education, health facilities, energy, water) and loss of current community support and networks. A large proportion of refugees rely on their social networks in the camp for socio-economic opportunities and social protection in times of need. These support mechanisms have been nurtured over years of reciprocal relationships inside the camp community and are ‘emplaced’ in the camp.

The authors conclude that social networks and access to important forms of social capital explain the decision of many refugees in Kakuma to decline the opportunity to relocate to Kalobeyei.