The traditional image of refugees living in overcrowded tented camps is gradually changing. In reality, half of the world’s refugees live in urban areas. Nairobi is home to tens of thousands of refugees who fled war, conflict and personal persecution. They choose the city over a camp in the hope they will find safety and more economic opportunity. But too often they are victims of harassment, assault and dire poverty.
Refugees living in Nairobi come from many different countries. While Somalis comprise about 58 percent of the refugee population in Nairobi, others come from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda and Sudan. The UN High Commission for Refugees estimates that Nairobi is home to 53,200 refugees, although other international nongovernmental organizations believe there are many more, largely hidden from society.
Their reasons for living in Nairobi rather than a refugee camp are numerous. Some hope for more job prospects, or might have friends or family in the city who can provide assistance. They may have left a refugee camp because it lacked education opportunities or adequate medical care, violence in the camps or discrimination at the hands of other refugees or local authorities.
Refugees in Nairobi are largely impoverished and live in very low-income neighborhoods. Many of the refugees we provide care to do not have refugee status from the UN refugee agency, making it extremely difficult for them to access needed services. As a result, they are extremely vulnerable. Despite the hardships of life as an urban refugee and traumatic past experiences, there is no in-depth mental health trauma care available to them.
In 2013, CVT began providing mental health and physical therapy to refugees in several neighborhoods. In the eastern part of Nairobi, CVT works in the Kayole and Kasarani neighborhoods, and in the Riruta area in the western part of the city.
CVT's care is based on our international healing initiatives. This includes an emphasis on high quality mental health care for survivors of torture and war trauma. It also emphasizes training national staff to develop mental health and physical therapy resources that will benefit the community for the long term.
An experienced psychotherapist/trainer leads a team of 10 psychosocial counselors providing high quality mental health care for survivors of torture and war. The counselors provide both individual and group counseling. Another skilled physical therapist/trainer directs two physical therapists. The counselors and physical therapists consult and coordinate care to survivors. About 40 percent of counseling clients also receive physical therapy.
Through CVT I received physical therapy and now I can lift heavy things. For a long time I complained to other organizations about my pain but no one took me seriously. I thought I was going to die because of the lack of treatment. I’m grateful – I’m completely changed. -Torture Survivor Living in Nairobi
- Provides direct mental health counseling to refugees in Nairobi who are severely traumatized as a result of torture or war trauma.
- Trains a team of Kenyan counselors and physical therapists to develop their clinical skills to care for survivors of violent experiences, torture and stress related to refugee status.
- Provides specialized physical therapy services to manage pain or other forms of impairment caused by torture, improve joint mobility and regain function in daily living.
- Engage and train staff at other agencies and organizations in support of torture and war trauma survivors.
CVT’s work in Nairobi is made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration and the S.L. Gimbel Foundation Fund at The Community Foundation Serving the Counties of Riverside and San Bernadino.