The Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) is a non-governmental organization focussed on creating a world where refugees and other forced migrants can live in dignity and enjoy their rights. RCK does this through provision of legal aid and psychosocial support, advocacy and awareness creation. In 2016 RCK received a grant from the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (UNVFVT). With this grant RCK was able to reach out to clients that have suffered torture in form or another. Below are stories that highlight some of the success RCK has had in the provision of psychosocial support.
Case Profile 1 (Nairobi)
Ahmed* (not his real name) fled his country of origin Ethiopia in January 2010 due to political persecution by the Ethiopian government. Prior to flight, Ahmed was detained and tortured by the Ethiopian soldiers on several occasions on allegations of being a supporter and financier of Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). While in Ethiopia, the client was arrested at night and taken to Dakar military camp where he was tortured; the soldiers kept him awake for 12 hours and occasionally poured frozen water on him. He was also beaten with a rubber cane and was forced to walk on sharp stones. When Ahmed found an opportune time, he escaped and fled in the year 2010. He travelled by bus from Harar to Dire Dawa and then to Addis Ababa. He then proceeded to Moyale and crossed the border on foot. From there he travelled by lorry to Nairobi. He presented himself to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for registration and was registered and issued with an asylum pass.
In 2014, the government of Kenya initiated an operation dubbed Usalama Watch. In this operation, Ahmed and other urban refugees were rounded up and detained for one and a half months. During the detention period, government officials were verifying the identities of urban refugees to be
transported to the camps. Ahmed was almost deported to Somalia after being erroneously identified as a Somali migrant that was unlawfully in Kenya. Ahmed was eventually released by the authorities but the trauma inflicted both in the country of origin and asylum still stuck with him.
To address his traumatic experience, Ahmed was taken through 5 counselling sessions by the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) psychosocial counsellor. The sessions were initiated to assist Ahmed cope with the traumatic experiences of detention and torture. During the counselling sessions, the client shared how his past had haunted him to an extent of not having conjugal rights with his wife. His wife – who accompanied him to the sessions – shared that she contemplated divorce owing to this issue. She felt that their relationship was more of brother-sister than that of a wife-husband. She shared how her husband would make funny sounds at night, cry while shouting and woke up sweating and horrified. The counsellor pointed out that this was a result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occasioned by the physical and psychological torture he had faced in Ethiopia coupled with the detention he faced in Kenya. By the fourth counselling session the client had come to terms with the issues he had faced and the nightmares were reducing in frequency. He also started interacting more and communicating better with his wife and was now more caring and concerned about her wellbeing.
The couple now has one child and during termination session (last counselling session) the wife shared that they were planning to bear more children. RCK fast tracked their asylum claim and they were able to obtain a mandate (be recognized as refugees by UNHCR). Their case was also profiled and shared with UNHCR for a durable solution. Currently they are awaiting resettlement to USA as a survivor of torture.
Ahmed transformation has been made possible by the generous support of organizations such as the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. Through psychosocial support, Ahmed was able to develop coping mechanism for the trauma and thereby able to function normally in society. Before engaging with the RCK psychosocial counsellor, his marriage was on the verge of collapse. However after the interactions with the counsellor through the sessions, Ahmed is able to live a happier and healthier life as evidenced by the growth of his family. The RCK legal officers facilitated issuance of his identification document with the relevant agency. In addition, the legal officers supported Ahmed to lodge a resettlement case which is being processed.
Case Profile 2 (Nairobi)
While in Ethiopia, Fatuma’s* (not her real name) father was working with the government as a police commissioner. Her father was however accused of cooperating with and working for the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). The harassment and persecution by the government became too much and as a result Fatuma’s father fled for his safety. When her father fled, the government troops redirected their persecution towards her mother. This continued until the mother also had to flee. During that time, Fatuma was still a child, hence her mother decided to leave her with her grandfather who took care of her until she finished college and graduated as a teacher.
Fatuma was employed as a teacher at a school in Addis Ababa. A year into her job, the students in the school demonstrated against the then school administration. The following day, on 5th April 2014, Fatuma returned to work as usual but as she was in class, the Director of the school summoned her to the staff room where she was handcuffed by government soldiers and taken for questioning at a police camp. The government soldiers accused her of organizing the school demonstration and further accused her of supporting OLF. She was later informed that her arrest was connected to her father’s disappearance. Fatuma was severely tortured while in detention at the police camp. She was raped by five different soldiers, had cold water poured on her, and was electrocuted. She was held in detention for 6 months and kept in darkness for several days. She was finally released on 15th October 2014.
Fatuma – fearing re-arrest and detention – decided to flee from Ethiopia. Her uncle gave her money to flee. She travelled to Addis Ababa where she met her sister who had also fled on facing similar persecution. They both travelled by bus to Shashamane then to Dilla and finally to Moyale, Ethiopia. In Moyale, Ethiopia they met a Borana lady that understood their language who advised them to run into Kenya. The lady directed them to people who helped them to cross into Moyale, Kenya. From Moyale, Kenya, they travelled straight to Nairobi.
When Fatuma and her sister reached Nairobi they settled at Mlango Kubwa. Her sister had money to meet their basic needs including rent but it ran out after 2 months. They had to search for employment in order meet their needs. Her sister secured employment and shifted residence while Fatuma was employed as a house help and moved in with her employer. One month later, her sister stopped communicating with her, her phone was also out of service. Fatuma decided to inquire about her whereabouts at her work place. She was informed that her sister had not reported to work forone week and neither had she communicated to anyone on her absenteeism. She concluded that her sister had been abducted by the people enquiring on her father since they would make numerous phone calls to her (sister) threatening to abduct her if she did not confess on her father’s whereabouts. She reported the disappearance of her sister to UNHCR who referred her to RCK.
During the 1st and 2nd counselling session by RCK counsellors, it was observed that Fatuma was hopeless and felt unworthy having been raped in her Country of Origin (CoO). Her feelings of vulnerability to further rape heightened after her sister’s disappearance. She felt that her last option was to commit suicide. Fatuma shared how she had a well laid plan to commit suicide which was especially triggered by the challenges she was facing with her employer and flashback from the rape incident she had undergone in her CoO. Fatuma further shared that it was by mere chance that she had not committed suicide before receiving psychosocial assistance. That she had this driving force / strong urge of reporting the disappearance of her sister to UNHCR who then referred her to RCK. RCK legal officer advised her to report the disappearance of her sister to Red Cross before referring
her to RCK officer for counselling services; the client had also presented stress symptoms while reporting the disappearance of her sister.
During her 3rd and 4th counselling session, the client continued to share with the counsellor other challenges she was facing while working for her employer. She narrated how she was allocated sleeping space in the kitchen and her employer’s eldest son often made proposal of wanting to have a sexual relationship with her. Fatuma claimed that she had refused his proposal since she still had fresh memories of her rape incident in Ethiopia, which made her hate men. She shared that four days earlier at midnight; he had sneaked into the kitchen where she slept and had attempted to rape her. She screamed and his mother came and found out what had happened. Fatuma explained to her that her son had tried to rape her but instead of warning her son; she started accusing Fatuma of wanting to spoil her family and her son’s name. She started beating and threatening to kill her if she reported the incident to anyone including her husband. Fatuma was traumatized because of this incident and feared that the son would succeed next time since the mother had done nothing about it.
It was also assessed that besides the client presenting psychological problem she also needed social and livelihood assistance for a holistic support and ultimately to benefit from counselling support. The client was also at risk of staying with her employer since she was more prone to sexual and physical abuse. Fatuma did not want to file charges for the attempted rape since she did not want any form of contact with the employer’s family despite the legal advice she received from a legal officer at RCK. She was referred to IRC where she made an application for 6 months internship for a tutor position and since she had teaching skills her application was successful. She was receiving a monthly stipend for her work and this enabled her to shift to her own residence. On winding up her internship, she secured employed at a local college which enables her to cater for her basic needs.
During the termination session (last counselling session) the client was grateful that now she had overcome her stress and had started viewing life in a positive perspective. She is also engaged and soon will be wedding an Oromo man from her clan. She seems to be more content and appreciated being a Kenyan refugee though she claimed that she did not mind securing resettlement as life in the 3rd country is much better.
Case Profile 3 (Dadaab)
*Ismail (Not his real name) a survivor of torture came to Kenya in the year 2004 after fleeing from his country, Ethiopia. He had been through the most painful and terrifying experience of his life. In June 2003, Ismail was arrested by the Ethiopian military on accusation of being a member of Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).2 He was detained in Moyale military camp where he was tortured by being beating brutally beaten, threatened with death, and his limbs chained together for days. This left him both physically and mentally wounded.
Ismail was transferred to Yebello prison after two months at Moyale military camp. He was detained for six months and later presented in court to answer to charges of being an OLF member. He was released and warned against participating in any OLF activities. On release, his life continued being threatened and he was under regular military watch. Due to his life being in danger, he fled his country to Kenya through the Moyale border point and arrived in Dadaab refugee camp.
He was withdrawn, felt hopeless, dejected and bitter and had difficulties adapting to the camp life as well as trusting people. This greatly affected his well-being. He had no friends and spent most of his time in isolation, worried and stressed about his safety. His neighbour who was a former counselling beneficiary of the Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) identified that Ismail was not well and required help. He referred and accompanied him to RCK for assistance.
He was offered legal advice by RCK’s legal officer on his rights as a refugee as well as profiled and assisted in acquiring a legal status in the country. His Refugee Status Determination (RSD) was successful and he became a recognized refugee. With the help of the psychosocial counsellors, Ismail also underwent six individual counselling sessions as well as two group therapy sessions with other torture survivors to enable him cope with the trauma through group support system.
After the counselling sessions, Ismail demonstrated improved coping skills through speaking up/ sharing his story and encouraging other survivors in the community as well as identifying torture survivors in the community and referring them to RCK for specialized counselling support.
Following the work he had been doing in the community in assisting and profiling survivors of torture for assistance, Ismail was recruited to work with RCK as a Community Based Counsellor (CBC) in the camp in 2014 under the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture (UNVFVT) project. He was trained on offering basic counselling skills and his main responsibilities are to identify and offer basic counselling to survivors of torture in the camp as well as refer them to RCK for follow up counselling. He has continuously performed his duties diligently and won trust of the community. He also acts as a role model to other survivors and as a source of inspiration to those who feel hopeless. In August, Ismail also represented his community at the annual forced migration course organized by RCK in Nairobi and actively shared about the challenges refugees face.
Ismail is an example of the pain and suffering that survivors of torture go through and the odds they have to overcome. Before Ismael received psychosocial support, he could not work as he felt dejected and hopeless owing to the trauma he went through. His story is reminiscent to other stories of refugees coming from situations of violence and persecution. His story underscores the importance of psychosocial support for torture survivors which enables them move past the trauma and lead meaningful lives.