Kenya: protection needs increase with refugee influx
14 January 2015

A young boy studies at the Kakuma Safe Haven, where a group of about 50 children were rescued in August before they were taken by traffickers (Christian Fuchs / Jesuit Refugee Service).
Trafficking of South Sudanese children as young as ten is a growing phenomenon. Traffickers find those separated from their families on route to or inside the camp and take them the southern Africa, often to Malawi, where they use or sell them as slaves (both for forced labour and sexual exploitation).
Kakuma, 14 January 2015 – Without the opportunity to integrate into Kenyan society due to a strict encampment policy and with low chances of resettlement, most refugees in Kenya spend years living in refugee camps. While they are provided a physical space free from war, camps are not necessarily free from human rights abuses, particularly sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).

Kakuma refugee camp is ripe with cultural diversity that enriches camp life, but unfortunately "some of the cultural practices and beliefs degrade women. Among the South Sudanese, especially Dinka and Nuer, women are seen as valuable assets who are traded for expensive dowries of herds of cattle, which many families depend on for survival," said Jeremiah Orongo Otieno, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Safe Haven Assistant Coordinator in Kakuma.

This creates circumstances where women and children are not granted the agency they deserve.

Two JRS Safe Havens – one for adolescent boys and another for girls, single women and mothers with their children –provide physical and emotional protection, safe spaces within the camp for those caught in a cycle of violence.

Adolescent boys residing in the Safe Haven attend a nearby camp school, receive food and other basic necessities, and are offered access to a child therapist and mentorship programmes.

Girls, women and their children engage in literacy and tailoring classes and also receive counselling, food and other basic necessities. Children under 10 years of age attend nursery school within the shelter. The facility also offers numerous workshops for women and girls on reproductive, maternal and child health, including HIV/AIDS awareness.

"Equipping the safe haven participants with these skills improves their healing process and enables them to feel safe, secure and at ease with themselves."

New phenomenon of trafficking. According to UNFPA, in 2014 alone, more than 43,000 South Sudanese refugees have arrived into the already overcrowded Kakuma camp. Seventy percent of these new arrivals are women and children.

Given the severity of the conflict in South Sudan, it is inevitable that many of the children who flee lose their parents or guardians along the way, leaving them vulnerable to trafficking, abductions and SGBV.

"Trafficking of South Sudanese children as young as ten is a growing phenomenon. Traffickers find those separated from their families on route to or inside the camp and take them the southern Africa, often to Malawi, where they use or sell them as slaves (both for forced labour and sexual exploitation)."

Camp officials work vigilantly to identify trafficking victims and refer them to the JRS shelter.

"A group of about 50 children were rescued in August in Kakuma before they were taken by traffickers."

Coordinated response. In addition to camp officials, organisations such as Lutheran World Federation, responsible for school management, as well as the Refugee Consortium of Kenya and the International Rescue Committee, responsible for healthcare, identify women and children in need of protection and refer them to the JRS Safe Haven.

These organisations then try to find a durable solution for their protection, ideally within six months, which could include reintegration in their community, relocation to Dadaab refugee camp or another community in Kakuma, or, in very rare circumstances, resettlement abroad.

However, meeting a six-month time limit is often not possible. Just as the camp is overcrowded, so too are the safe havens. The women's shelter should house 40 refugees but currently hosts 72 with some beneficiaries sleeping on the floor. The waiting list for referrals continues to grow.

Fortunately, JRS is not alone in addressing SGBV. Many organisations work to raise awareness among communities and prevent future incidents. FilmAid, for example, raises awareness about identifying and reporting incidences of SGBV with community leaders, zone leaders and community groups. Other organisations do the same in schools with trainings designed for children. UNFPA Kenya also leads initiatives in community outreach, psychosocial support and protective spaces.

Angela Wells, JRS Eastern Africa Communications Officer




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