Kenya: Increase of sexual violence among urban refugees
28 July 2011

Many refugee women in the Kenyan capital Nairobi are victims of sexual violence. More are speaking out but most of them still suffer in silence. (Angela Hellmuth/JRS)
Information gathered from refugees indicates that many cases of SGBV go unreported because victims have no access to hospitals, do not know what to do once they have experienced sexual violence, or because their culture does not allow them to speak out.
Nairobi, 28 July 2011 – Sexual violence seems to be on the increase among refugees in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Since the beginning of this year, more refugees have spoken out about being victims of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

"We receive reports of an average of three cases of sexual violence every week," says Joseph Waweru, JRS Social Worker in Nairobi. "Those affected have either become victims of sexual violence while fleeing their country of origin or while seeking asylum in Nairobi," he explains.

"The survivors are in tears when they tell us their stories. Some feel embarrassed about their experience. Men who witnessed their wives being raped during the flight say they felt helpless and overwhelmed," says Mr Waweru.

Information gathered from refugees indicates that many cases of SGBV go unreported because victims have no access to hospitals, do not know what to do once they have experienced sexual violence, or because their culture does not allow them to speak out.

"Women from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) who have shared their experiences of sexual violence with us say their culture does not allow them to speak out about rape or other forms of sexual abuse," says Mr Waweru. "Their husbands will leave them or, if they are unmarried, nobody will want to marry them and other women will point fingers at them, making them outlaws in their own community," he adds. Not being able to share their stories with anyone, these women suffer in silence.

New arrivals are particularly vulnerable

Once asylum seekers arrive in Nairobi, they have to find means and ways of survival. For women and children in particular, finding safe accommodation is the main challenge.

"Ethiopian and Somali women who have experienced sexual violence have told us that they felt extremely vulnerable when they first arrived in Nairobi," says Mr Waweru.

Many refugee women start working as house helps for other refugees or Kenyans who often exploit them, paying poor or no salaries at all and abusing them sexually.

Majority of these women continues working with their exploiters because they are threatened with death, should they speak out. Only once they are too sick to carry out their duties or become pregnant and get thrown out they can escape the situation.

Children and men are also affected

Children are also affected and sadly, in most cases, it is their guardians abusing them. "We have received reports about three cases of girls being sexually abused by a male guardian, the youngest being only one and a half years old," says Mr Waweru.

Young men are vulnerable too, while seeking means of survival and a place to sleep. So far, JRS in Nairobi has heard of two young male refugees who were sexually exploited by wealthy Kenyan women who offered them accommodation and food in return.

Given this increase in SGBV cases among refugees, aid agencies in Nairobi, including JRS, have formed a working group so as to address the cases and root causes of sexual violence reported to them.JRS works with at least five partner organisations in order to respond to the increase in SGBV among refugees.

In June, partnering with aid organisation Heshima Kenya and responding to repeated requests by refugees, JRS has started holding seminars in Catholic parishes to provide refugees with information on how to protect themselves, what to do in a situation of sexual violence and who to report cases of SGBV to.

Through its urban emergency programme in Nairobi JRS provides food, financial and medical support to newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers and economically empowers refugees to become self-reliant through micro-credits. JRS also offers educational support to refugee children by providing scholarships for pre-school, secondary and tertiary education.





Press Contact Information
Angelika Mendes
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