The Dadaab refugee complex in northeast Kenya is the world’s largest refugee site. Created at the start of the Somali civil war in 1991, the camps have more than 460,000 refugees in a compound built to accommodate only 90,000. Most refugees are from Somalia, with others from South Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and other countries.
The levels of trauma and torture reported among the refugees in the camps are severe. Many refugees experienced targeted violence as well as random atrocities of war. Particularly disturbing are the high levels of rape and sexual violence reported by refugees throughout their experience, including as acts of war in their home communities.
Since this healing project began, we have hired and trained refugees from the Dadaab camps to provide mental health services to survivors of torture and war trauma. The counselors are a combination of Kenyan nationals and refugees, mainly of Somali origin. These paraprofessional mental health counselors receive ongoing training and supervision from experienced mental health clinicians and trainers.
The counselors use bicycles to travel in the camps and go door-to-door to introduce refugees to CVT’s healing services. Because people live in tents, shelters are close together so the counselors are able to talk with neighbors and build relationships with block leaders and family members.
The response from refugees is positive. As a result, we are getting referrals from community members and building understanding of our work and how it helps survivors.
Counseling is provided in a complex on the edge of one of the refugee camps in Dadaab. It is a quiet and unusually shady corner of the overcrowded camps. There is an office and a small counseling hut to provide privacy and confidentiality. Most survivors attend small group counseling sessions which meet for about ten weeks. Depending on the nature of the trauma, groups are divided into different populations of either adult men or women. Individuals with severe trauma symptoms receive private individual counseling, with many joining small group counseling when they are able.
In addition to direct mental health care, we provide:
- Referrals so all of a survivor’s needs are met, including referrals for medical care and shelter.
- Training for other agencies and nongovernmental organizations to increase understanding of appropriate and sensitive care for survivors, as well as self-care so humanitarian workers remain emotionally and psychologically healthy.
- Participation in the Dadaab Mental Health Coordination group. With our unique expertise in mental health care for survivors of torture and war, we share our skills and network with other providers to improve care to torture and war trauma survivors and build awareness among other NGOs, including health, mental health, social service staff as well as teachers and other school staff.
Ongoing insecurity in the camp is a concern, including the kidnapping of aid workers and attacks on refugee leaders and Kenyan security forces. We work closely with the UN refugee agency and conduct ongoing risk assessment for the protection of all our staff and the survivors we serve.
Read this conversation that took place on CVT's Facebook page June 13, 2013 between Executive Director Curt Goering and International Services Clinical Advisory Paul Orieny.
The project is funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, the United National Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, Al Kanab, and the United Methodist Women International Ministries.
Photo top of page: Aerial of Dadaab town, Kenya near the Dadaab refugee complex.