Accepted paper:

The everyday refugee registration practices of the Government of Kenya


Claire Walkey (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the everyday registration practices of the Government of Kenya. Despite being a seemingly routine and mundane bureaucratic procedure, this paper reveals the complex paradoxes the 'street-level' work of bureaucrats can contain (Lipsky 1980).

Paper long abstract:

This paper explores the everyday registration practices of the Government of Kenya. It is based on observation within a government registration office at the public facing 'street level' (Lipsky 1980). It focuses on the practice of bureaucrats and role of technological infrastructure in the production of asylum-seeker passes - a document which grants asylum-seekers the right to reside in Kenya, pending determination of their claim for refugee status.

I show that registration practices were marked by a paradoxical procedural indifference or disinterest to the characteristics and profile of the individuals being registered - in tension with the enumerative purpose of registration. The biographical and biometric information collected from individuals was often limited in scope, marked by gaps and mistakes, and a technological set-up that made it difficult to utilise much of the information. It also did not meet the rights-bestowing purpose of registration as the asylum seeker pass was only valid for six months and could not be renewed, despite being needed by asylum-seekers for often eighteen months.

I argue that this was because of a deliberate desire by the Kenyan state to deny meaningful and on-going recognition to asylum-seekers; documents were given to asylum-seekers not to embrace or recognise them but instead as a performance to appease international donors who exerted significant financial and normative pressure on the government to carry out registration. Registration therefore did not take place to achieve its official or ostensive enumerative and rights-bestowing purpose but instead worked to deliberately undermine it.

panel B04
The production, uses and meaning of identity documents for people on the move