Understanding the Socioeconomic Conditions of Refugees in Kalobeyei, Kenya: Results from the 2018 Kalobeyei Socioeconomic Profiling Survey

UNHCR and World Bank, 2020




Kenya hosts more than 470,000 refugees, 40 percent of whom live in the Kakuma camps and Kalobeyei Settlement in Turkana County, one of the poorest counties in the country. The Kalobeyei Settlement was established in 2015 to accommodate the growing population from the Kakuma camps, and with the aim of transitioning refugee assistance from an aid-based model to a self-reliance model through opportunities for economic inclusion, integrated services, and improved livelihood opportunities for both refugees and the host community.

This report provides a comprehensive snapshot of demographic characteristics, living standards, social cohesion, and specific vulnerabilities of refugees living in the Kalobeyei Settlement in Turkana County, along the northwestern border of Kenya. Statistics are based on the Kalobeyei Socioeconomic Profiling (SEP) Survey, which captures data on a range of socioeconomic indicators, including consumption-based poverty. The basic SEP survey covers 6,004 households across the three villages of Kalobeyei. 85 percent of respondents arrived in Kenya in 2016 or 2017, while 12 percent have been in Kenya for more than five years. Data are statistically representative of the settlement’s population in 2018 and comparable to the 2015/16 Kenyan national housing survey.

Key findings:

  • Most refugees in Kalobeyei are South Sudanese (74 percent), with sizeable populations from Ethiopia (13 percent), Burundi (7 percent) and DRC (4 percent).
  • Refugees in Kalobeyei are younger than the Kenyan population, with virtually no elders. 71 percent of refugees are younger than 19 years old, compared to 59 percent in Turkana County and 50 percent nationally. Only 0.4 percent of refugees are 65 or older, compared to 3.9 percent of Kenyans.
  • Refugee households are larger than local and national populations. The average household size in Kalobeyei is 5.8, compared to 4.4 in Turkana County, and 4 in Kenya.
  • Consequently there is a high dependency ratio (1.9) among refugees, compared to the population of Turkana County (1.18) and the national population (0.8). The dependency ratio varies by country of origin and date of arrival of refugees, and is also higher than the dependency ratio in the country of origin.
  • Women head 66 percent of households in the settlement and this proportion is higher among South Sudanese refugees (77 percent).
  • Physical and mental disabilities are persistent, both among heads of households and the broader community.
  • Only 18 percent of refugee households have access to improved housing, compared to 12 percent in Turkana County, one of the lowest rates in the country.
  • Refugees report better access to improved drinking water, although most describe shortages. 100 percent of refugee households have access to a water point compared to 63 percent of households in Turkana County and 73 percent of households nationally. However, two-thirds of refugees reported insufficient quantities of drinking water.
  • Refugees report better access to improved sanitation than Turkana County, but sharing facilities is a common practice. Access to improved sanitation is lower for refugees (52 percent) and Turkana hosts (32 percent) than for nationals (65 percent).
  • Very few refugee households have access to electricity from the main grid or a generator, compared to 12 percent of households in Turkana County and 42 percent nationally.
  • Most primary school-age refugee children reportedly attend school, but secondary school attendance rates are very low. Net primary attendance rates for children aged 6–13 years are 77 percent for refugees, compared to 48 percent in Turkana County and 80 percent nationally. Only 5 percent of refugee youth aged 14–17 attend secondary school, compared to 9 percent in Turkana County and 38 percent nationally. 80 percent of refugees report having attended school at some point in their lives.
  • Literacy rates for refugees fall between the national and Turkana County averages and vary significantly by gender. 60 percent of refugees above age15 report being able to read or write in at least one language (44 percent of females, 80 percent of males), compared to 40 percent in Turkana County and 85 percent nationally. More than half of refugees (55 percent) speak either English (49 percent) or Swahili (29 percent).
  • Rates of economic activity in Kalobeyei are low, in part due to the young age of the population. 39 percent of refugees are of working age (15–64 years), compared to 46 percent in Turkana County and 55 percent nationally. In Kalobeyei, 37 percent of the working-age population is employed, 59 percent is ‘inactive’ (including those caring for household members and students), and 4 percent are unemployed (available and looking for work). In comparison, 72 percent of Kenyans have an occupation, 23 percent are inactive, and 6 percent are unemployed.
  • Many refugee households experience varying degrees of food insecurity. 43 percent of households are food secure, 27 percent are “under stress,” 15 percent are “in crisis”, and 17 percent are in “emergency”.
  • Levels of trust, security and participation in decision-making are high among refugees. 8 in 10 refugees feel that neighbors are generally trustworthy. More than 9 in 10 feel safe walking alone in their neighborhood during the day, but only 3 in 10 feel so at night. 3 in 4 believe that they are able to express opinions within the existing community leadership structure, and 2 in 3 believe their opinions are taken into account.
  • Half of refugee households reported interacting with a member of the host community in the past week and more than 60 percent of refugees feel safe visiting a neighboring town alone. Around half agree that host community members are generally trustworthy, and half are comfortable with their child socializing with the host community.
  • More than half of refugees are poor (58 percent), higher than the national rate (37 percent), lower than the Turkana County rate (72 percent), and comparable to what is found in the average of the 15 poorest counties in Kenya. Eradicating poverty among Kalobeyei refugees would require an annual transfer of $144 per person, compared to $234 per person for Turkana County residents. Poverty is driven by age, employment status of the household head, household size, number of children, and assets.
  • Living conditions for refugees vary according to sex and gender norms. Women face higher poverty levels; lower access to basic services such as water, sanitation, and education; and tend to have a lower labor force participation rate.

The report concludes with several recommendations. First, building and maintaining human capital in the refugee population—especially among girls and women—need to be prioritized. Second, promoting self-reliant agricultural interventions can help to avoid food insecurity. Third, efforts to strengthen access to improved sanitation must be continued among the refugee and host populations. Fourth, increasing work opportunities for the refugee population can help to lift aid dependence and improve livelihoods. Fifth, joint programs for refugees and host populations can further improve social cohesion.