In November 2021, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta signed the Refugee Act 2021.  

The Refugee Act of 2021 recognizes protection and management of refugees in Kenya. The Act gives new hope to over 500,000 refugees as they will now have access to livelihoods and economic and social integration. 

Kenya transitioned to using the Refugee Act 2021 on February 23, 2022.  

This article highlights the key things you would need to know about the Refugee Act of 2021. Read along to understand the changes, new rights and opportunities likely to impact the lives of refugees, asylum seekers and Kenyans.

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First, the Refugee Act of 2021 introduces a number of rights to refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya. The new rights include; 

  • Participation in economic and social development once they have received proper documentation and permits from the county and national government. This means, refugees can now be in gainful employment and shall be expected to pay taxes just like Kenyan citizens.
  • Refugees have a right to engage in employment or start businesses or practice or trade in sectors where they hold a qualification that is recognized by competent authorities. 
  • The right to access identification and civil registration documents for purposes of access to rights and services under the Refugee Act 2021. 
  • Refugees from Burundi, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda have an option to give up their refugee status and seek legal stay arrangements and enjoy benefits under the Treaty and East African Community (EAC) Common Market Protocol. 
  • Inclusion of refugees in national and county development plans including the shared use of public institutions, facilities and spaces between refugees and host communities. 
  • Protection of refugees and asylum seekers from being forcefully returned to their countries of origin (refoulment) except where there are reasonable grounds that they are regarded as a danger to Kenya’s national security. 
  • An extension of the grace period for appealing a rejected refugee status application from the previous 30 days to a maximum of 60 days.

Under the new laws, a person shall qualify to be a refugee in Kenya if: 

  • They prove to have a well-founded fear of persecution on the grounds of their race, religion, nationality, their membership in a particular social group or political opinion, and if such persons are unwilling to avail themselves to the protection of their country.

Offenses and Penalties for Kenyans, Refugees and Asylum Seekers 

The Refugee Act 2021 has listed any instances of double registration as a criminal offense with penalties that include imprisonment. It is a criminal offense for; 

  • Any Kenyan Citizen to knowingly apply or assist another Kenyan in the application for registration as an asylum seeker or a refugee. 
  • Any refugee to knowingly apply for a Kenyan National ID or passport or assist another refugee or asylum seeker to make this application.  

Under the Act, if found liable, the person shall pay a fine not exceeding Kshs.500,000 or be imprisoned for a term not exceeding three years or both. Making false statements to an appointed officer for the purpose of obtaining or assisting another person to obtain admission, and or registration as an asylum seeker or refugee is also listed as an offense. 

It is a crime for a refugee, to enter into a marriage with the aim of assisting another refugee to obtain any of the benefits conferred by the Refugee Act 2021. 

If you are seeking asylum in Kenya and you do not report to an authorized officer to apply for asylum or recognition as a refugee within 30 days upon entry into Kenya you are also at risk of penalties, is an offense. The penalties for anyone convicted of this include being liable to pay a fine not exceeding Kshs.50,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or both. The fine has been increased from Kshs.20,000. 

It is also a criminal offense under this Act to be a refugee engaged in gainful employment in Kenya without the payment of tax 

Other acts listed as offenses in the Act are; 

  • Forging, altering, destroying or willfully defacing an ID or any other document issued under the Refugee Act 2021. 
  • Soliciting a bribe from a refugee/asylum-seeker in order to facilitate access to services or their rights. 

Julisha.Info has provided answers to some of the questions you could be having in relation to the new law. You can find the answers here. 


If you have any questions about the Refugee Act of 2021, please write to us via the Julisha.Info Facebook page, Monday through Friday from 08:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.