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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: August 2009

15 - Managing the Environmental Impact of Refugees in Kenya: The Role of National Accountability and Environmental Law


Safeguarding the environment is one of the foundations of peace and security.

Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations

Caring for the environment is not an option. As a direct part of its mandate, it is something that UNHCR cannot afford to ignore. To do so would be to jeopardise the basic rights and needs of refugees – the institution of asylum. That is why we have made environmental issues a policy priority in our work.

Ruud Lubbers, Former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees


In the popular imagination, refugees and sustainable environmental outcomes are not easily twinned. More typical is the image of masses precipitously pouring across borders with the same danger to local natural resources as might be associated with “a swarm of locusts.” Although it is well established that refugees can have profound multiple effects on their host environments, this ravaging image of refugees is clearly an exaggeration. Nevertheless, in many an asylum country today, the relationship between refugees and ecology has become a “hot potato” in both community and State responses to cross-border forced displacement.

The outcry by the Garissa Town Council in Kenya against refugees in Dadaab Camp is illustrative of complaints routinely leveled against refugees; its litany of environmental woes includes:

indiscriminate clearing of vegetation, harvesting of fuel wood for both domestic and commercial purposes, harvesting of building and fencing materials, wildlife hunting and poaching, harvesting of sand and gravel, insecurity, social disruptions, damage to infrastructures, uncontrolled grazing of pastures and fodder, uncontrolled over-exploitation of underground water among others.

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