Areas of Nairobi, Kenya where large refugee populations live.
Conflicts in Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have forced hundreds of thousands of refugees to seek safe haven in Kenya and Uganda.
Since its inception in 2002, the HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya (HRTK) has served the most vulnerable of this population who have sought refuge in the urban centers of Nairobi and Kampala. Many of the refugees HRTK serves are survivors of torture and/or sexual or gender-based violence. HRTK has developed a reputation for exceptionally comprehensive services – and an outstanding quality of service – that has become known internationally.
HIAS' Office Compound
The HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya works on a full time basis in Kenya and through regular missions to Uganda to provide legal assistance to refugees for whom resettlement to a safe third country is the best response to their displacement. HRTK is vigilant and responds not only to the plight of individual refugees but also to the protection needs of certain clusters of at-risk refugees.
To that end, HRTK is the only entity, other than the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, able to refer refugee cases for resettlement consideration to the Canadian Government. In cooperation with more than 20 local and international organizations in Kenya and Uganda, HRTK identifies at-risk refugees who may be suitable candidates for resettlement, including survivors of torture and violence, women at risk and unaccompanied or separated minors. Many of HRTK's beneficiaries have endured serious abuse and trauma or present claims of sexual or gender-based violence.
Rather than enduring the dangers of living in refugee camps, many refugees attempt to live in anonymity in Nairobi or Kampala, tolerating risks of arrest, exploitation, and harassment. HRTK works with the underserved refugees living in these urban areas. Apart from the daily struggle to survive, many refugees continue to be pursued by their persecutors in the country of asylum or face hostility from members of their community in exile.
Under these circumstances, the only way to protect many at-risk refugees is through resettlement to a third country. Without HRTK, many of these urban refugees would fall outside the radar of the refugee assistance system.
From 2007 through 2009, HRTK's attorneys submitted 371 cases (approximately 1,270 people) for resettlement and 468 people departed Africa to be resettled in North America.
Separately, HRTK provides training to build the capacity of local NGOs working in partnership with HRTK to identify and advocate for refugees in need of protection. In this way HRTK seeks to strengthen the network of refugee-assistance agencies throughout the region.
Training facilitated by HRTK
HIAS social worker with clients as they depart Kenya to be resettled
HRTK’s Psychosocial Program was established in July 2004 in response to a dire need for psychotherapy services for refugees in Nairobi. Refugees grapple with past trauma including violence, torture, and forced displacement, as well as the vagaries of life in asylum, which may include continued persecution, breakdown of social fabric and traditions which together impair their social and occupational functioning.
Since inception, clients of the psychosocial program have most commonly been diagnosed to suffer from disorders such as anxiety, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Acute Stress Disorder, and neurosis. They have presented with symptoms such as: hopelessness, helplessness, uncertainty of the future, anger, low self-esteem, flashbacks, nightmares, disturbed sleep, loss of appetite, sexual dysfunctions, exaggerated startle response, hyper- vigilance, intrusive thoughts, restlessness, an excessive response to triggers and loss of interest in normal daily activities.
The Program’s intervention through individual counseling, family therapy, psychological assessments, referrals for psychiatric and emergency medical care, has assisted refugee clients in adapting coping mechanisms, creating positive interpersonal relationships and processing their traumatic critical incidences so that they are better able to enjoy life and restore dignity to their lives. The Project has also facilitated the processing of refugee protection cases through the determination of family composition, Best Interest Determination and referrals for family tracing.
In order to provide comprehensive services, HRTK established a Social Office to serve as a resource to refugees to help them meet their basic needs. Where an assessment reveals concerns for personal security and/or the need for medical intervention, the social office facilitates alternative safe accommodation and medical care respectively. It is especially vigilant to the plight of refugees in potentially risky situations. In 2008, HRTK’s Social work staff in Nairobi provided services to approximately 400 refugees.