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 the slums of the city. 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.
Beginning in early 2013, CVT will begin providing mental health and physical therapy to refugees in the Komarock neighborhood of Nairobi. Other nongovernmental organizations tell CVT that refugees report to them high levels of traumatization, but there are limited mental health resources in this neighborhood.
CVT will model its delivery of care on other international healing initiatives. This includes an emphasis on high quality mental health care for survivors of torture and war trauma. It also emphasizes training refugee and national staff to develop mental health and physical therapy resources that will benefit the community for the long term. CVT will:
- Provide direct mental health counseling to refugees in Nairobi who are severely traumatized as a result of torture or war trauma.
- Hire, train and supervise refugee and Kenyan staff to work as psychosocial counselors, physical therapists and outreach workers.
- Provide specialized physical therapy services to torture and war trauma survivors 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 is currently in the process of hiring staff and finalizing plans for its clinical space in the Komarock neighborhood of Nairobi. We will also coordinate with national, international and government groups to strengthen a referral network for mental health care to traumatized refugees.
CVT’s work in Nairobi is funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration