|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.|
(Kakuma, Kenya) January 15, 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 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 programs.
Girls, women and their children engage in literacy and tailoring classes and also receive counseling, 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 10 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 labor 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, organizations 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 organizations 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 organizations 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 organizations do the same in schools with trainings designed for children. UNFPA Kenya also leads initiatives in community outreach, psychosocial support and protective spaces.
by Angela Wells
JRS Eastern Africa Communications Officer
A grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration helps enable JRS to continue to provide counseling, education, services for refugees with learning disabilities and the Safe Haven for vulnerable women and children.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is an international Catholic non-governmental organization whose mission is to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees and other forcibly displaced persons.
To accompany means to be a companion. We are companions of Jesus, so we wish to be companions of those with whom he preferred to be associated, the poor and the outcast. JRS services are made available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs. JRS advocates for just and generous policies and programs for the benefit of victims of forced displacement, so that those made vulnerable by exile can receive support and protection and durable solution to their plight can be achieved.
JRS/USA witnesses to God’s presence in vulnerable and often forgotten people driven from their homes by conflict, natural disaster, economic injustice, or violation of their human rights.
As one of the ten geographic regions of Jesuit Refugee Service, JRS/USA serves as the major refugee outreach arm of U.S. Jesuits and their institutional ministries, mobilizing their response to refugee situations in the U.S. and abroad. Through our advocacy and fund raising efforts, JRS/USA provides support for the work of JRS throughout the world.
JRS/USA gives help, hope, ear and voice to vulnerable people on the move by being present to and bearing witness to their plight; by relieving their human suffering and restoring hope; by addressing the root causes of their displacement and improving international responses to refugee situations.
In addition, JRS/USA inspires the Ignatian family and others to respond together to the needs of refugees and displaced persons worldwide and forges strong partnerships with like-minded institutions and agencies devoted to the cause of refugees and displaced persons.
JRS works in more than 50 countries worldwide to meet the educational, health, social and other needs of approximately 950,000 refugees and other forcibly displaced persons, more than half of whom are women. JRS services are available to refugees and displaced persons regardless of their race, ethnic origin, or religious beliefs.
Approximately 280,000 children, young people and adults receive primary, secondary, tertiary and vocational education services each year. JRS places the highest priority on ensuring a better future for refugees by investing heavily in education and training. Further, JRS undertakes advocacy to ensure all displaced children be provided with access to quality education. JRS services are provided to refugees regardless of race, ethnic origin or religious beliefs.
Jesuit Refugee Service/USA is a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.