Kenya: Empowering refugees in an urban setting
17 April 2009

Refugees living in Nairobi do not receive the same services as those living in camps. (Peter Balleis SJ/JRS)
JRS experiences the refugees it works with as highly resilient and always hopeful. It is humbling to hear them encourage each other, knowing they have to deal with a specifically harsh economic environment.
Kakuma, 17 April 2009 Thirteen refugees who had been granted small loans which help them set up their own business took part in a one day participatory training this April. Since all of them had been involved in running a business previously, the training was meant to encourage them to share their knowledge not only about their products and skills but also about their experience in running a business.

Once they started sharing it became clear how skilled many of them are. One explained book keeping and all of them knew about market placement, credit control, quality control and debt management. They also advised each other on how to deal with the City Council and where to get the license needed to run a business legally. Some had been tailoring before, others made cards of banana fibre and one refugee with a visual impairment has a beautiful voice and ran a music production.

JRS experiences the refugees it works with as highly resilient and always hopeful. It is humbling to hear them encourage each other, knowing they have to deal with a specifically harsh economic environment. Through the training session JRS staff once more realised that the refugees have a lot to offer to the host community and that they are a valuable human resource to any country if granted an enabling environment.

Learning how to survive outside the camp

However, refugees are usually seen as people who are needy and dependent. At the same time the Government of Kenya pursues a policy of encampment whereby refugees are required to remain in designated camps, namely Kakuma in north-eastern and Dadaab in north-western Kenya. While refugees who live in camps normally have access to food, shelter, health care and education facilities refugees who prefer to stay in urban settings remain with very little support.

When refugees flee their homes and countries they have to leave most of what they own behind. There is however one thing that they can never leave behind: the skills that they have acquired in their countries of origin before they were forced to flee. After having settled in the country of asylum they are able to make use of these skills, improve them and at times even acquire new ones.

Through its Urban Emergency Programme JRS in Nairobi helps vulnerable and undocumented refugees become self-reliant by nurturing their skills and empowering them economically. The 66 refugees who are currently supported by the programme receive small loans which enable them to set up a business. Most of the refugees come from Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. Every refugee who is granted a loan has to take part in a one day training course in basic business skills and is expected to attend regular meetings of a support group to increase his knowledge. Loans are issued twice a year and expected to be repaid after one year.







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