Some refugees being attended to at the JRS Nairobi Office. (Charles Njanga/JRS)
Nairobi, 9 May2013 - Since the December 2012 Government of Kenya (GoK) directive for refugees to be relocated to the camps, the message has not been well received by refugees and some local Kenyans particularly in Eastleigh, Nairobi. Attacks on refugees have increased with the perpetrators terming them as terrorists and criminals. Many of the refugees locked themselves in their houses fearing such attacks. Others sought help from Churches especially where the refugees knew JRS operates.

According to a February to March 2013 report by the UNHCR quoted by the local media, over 20,000 refugees have gone back to Somalia from Kenya following the Government directive and also insecurity in Dadaab. This is despite the fact that conditions in Somalia are still not favourable for their return and security remains a major challenge. According to Al Jazeera TV in a report broadcast in April 2013, Somali refugees say they are harassed by Kenyan police, and wrongfully blamed for a wave of attacks that have shaken Kenya in recent months. Kenya has suffered a wave of kidnappings, grenade and gun attacks in Dadaab, Eastleigh and Garissa, ever since Kenyan forces launched an offensive against hard-line armed insurgents in south Somalia at the end of 2011. According to 'The Star' newspaper of 3rd April, in 2012 police arrested more than 346 foreigners in Nairobi after grenade and gun attacks which killed more than 10 policemen. Some of the attacks were in the predominantly Somali suburb of Eastleigh in Nairobi.

JRS intervention. JRS response to the cry of refugees was mainly listening and accompanying them. In Eastleigh, where there have been a lot of police swoops and arrests, we have had to swiftly engage with partners such as Kituo Cha Sheria and Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) to seek legal interventions that help protect refugees against harassment and arbitrary arrests.Additionally, many refugees have sought safety in some of the churches, amidst claims of rampant police harassment. We opted to introduce them to already on-going psycho-social groups that help people come together and share their past and present trauma. These groups were successfully joined and many still appreciate the togetherness and sharing that is helping them psychologically. They now understand the importance of sharing and always to be hopeful and together especially in times of crisis.

Regarding the host community, we engaged the local administration to invite leaders in barazas (meeting forums) where we intended to educate the Kenyan community on the need to continue living hospitably with the refugees as they had always done in the past decade or so. Many of the locals were angered by the recent deaths because of bombs and grenades attacks in the area which they attributed to refugees. We tried as much as possible to change their attitudes on refugees telling them that those causing the chaos were criminals and not necessarily refugees. We realized most of the Kenyans didn't know the plight of the refugees and hence took this opportunity to educate them.

Since then we have observed great changes in the interaction between the host community and refugees that has normalized.   The bomb attacks have also decreased tremendously. JRS still continues encouraging the locals and refugees of the need to co-exist.

Aftermath. Many of the refugees told us they had lost their properties and even some their family members when we visited some at home. They blamed police for a hand in this when they were arresting them and also robbed them during the swoops. Most of the times refugees claimed they were forced to give bribes to buy their freedom and also to some illegal Kenyan vigilante groups who claim to be better "Protectors" than police.

Many have also gone through trauma that can be classified as 2nd degree as they fled from their home countries and what they have gone through has hardly been dealt with. So JRS continues to listen to them through the Community Helpers, Pastoral Worker and referrals to agencies specializing on counselling.

A dependency syndrome has also emerged after refugees lost most of their businesses during the swoop. JRS has helped where it could especially with food and medicines. In most families, they have been left without the father figures who have fled after a lot of harassment from the police.

There are also many tendencies of hopelessness, helplessness which could easily lead to depression. We are helping in the best way possible by accompanying, serving and advocating for the rights of refugees.

By Mathias Mbisu, JRS UEP Field Assistant Eastleigh, Nairobi

In Nairobi, JRS provides a range of services to new arrivals, asylum seekers and refugees in the most vulnerable circumstances. These services include emergency food and medical assistance, assistance with rent payment, provision of basic non-food items, support for income generation activities, pastoral and psychosocial accompaniment, and educational scholarships for the children of vulnerable refugees.

Countries Related to this Region
Kenya

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