I am a potential refugee…you are a potential refugee…Amina is a recognized refugee living in Kenya, forced by circumstances to flee a place she knew as home a place she identified with the majority, where her skin color was not any different from her neighbors.
As she sat in the screening room soiled, her torn shoes telling the tales of hardships she looked at me and in her eyes I saw remorse, those documentaries on the African child had nothing on what was written on her face. So I quickly introduced myself and when it was her turn she spoke in nostalgia of a time where all she had to care about was getting to school on time and having her homework done. It seemed like ages ago …soon enough her baby’s cry got louder her cracked lips and pale face indicated that she had not had a decent meal in a long time but the baby needed to feed.
I was 15 when we managed to flee to Kenya. My step mother and my 3 younger siblings had just escaped death my step dad was killed by the militia who burnt down our house we managed to escape through the windows my step dad was not so lucky. My step mom knew of a truck driver who owed her a favor; he agreed to get us to Kenya. We were optimistic that it would be a new beginning for all of us; we finally had a sense of safety. I had so many plans maybe I could even go back to school make friends one day I will even start my own family. We had been told of how good life was in the city. The good schools, clean water, friendly people- nothing like in my country.
“Life here is nothing like I expected,” Amina continues explaining now with tears rolling down her cheeks. When we got to Nairobi a well wisher accommodated us for a few weeks we had to pick up odd jobs like doing laundry and cleaning people’s homes with little pay during the day while in the night the master (owner of the house) would call me into his room to…long pause….to clean. She looked at her breast feeding child and again broke into tears at this point I was not sure if she was crying because of her traumatizing past or because the child was suckling on empty breasts.
As soon as the lady of the house discovered of the night escapades with her husband she bitterly kicked us out. Her foster mother hated her for it she was the reason why they slept outside and hungry. She felt disillusioned, hopeless and had no reasons to live. She had to find a solution to the problems. Amina is 17, HIV positive and with child of a man she met once for a few hours in her now routinely night escapades. With her refugee status determination interview in 2019 she had to get creative as being in Kenya was the only durable solution.
This is not just Amina’s story, but the story of many other women. Most cultures have denied women the tools and resources to benefit their well-being. During these times women are mostly vulnerable as the burden of survival mostly falls upon them. They not only have to take care of themselves, but the rest of the family as well. This is done without much social-economic development since women have not been empowered.
Most urban Refugees have been reported to be commercial sex workers they do this in cities where sex work is both legal and illegal but who can blame them? They need a means to an end. Refugees have restricted access to job opportunities, they experience language barriers, lack of proper paperwork evidencing school graduation or other job requirements (a number of refugees reported that their diplomas and other documentation had been permanently lost, so despite meeting educational requirements they were turned away from formal employment).
There are few studies done in this area. The stigma that comes with commercial sex work has led to extensive compromises on the protection of refugee sex workers. Protection from GBV risks has became a nightmare since perpetrators of violence know sex workers cannot officially report violence without fear of being arrested due to the nature of their work, and refugee sex workers not only risk arrest, but also their right to stay in the host country. Where refugees do not speak the language of the host community, they are even more fearful of the police, since if arrested they would be unable to assert their rights or understand what is happening, which creates further avenues for abuse to occur while in detention.
A lot needs to be done to the refugee community and more especially for female refugees. Empower these women; give them access to resources that will help them grow a different set of skills and this can be only be done if refugee woman is involved in decision-making and leadership. Discussions about sexual and gender based within the refugee community provided by organizations also need to be enhanced. However, this can not only be left to few organizations; it is upon each and every one of us who for the refugees- we should all care!
I’m sure you’re thinking-“But why all this concern” because you too are a potential refugee. As you sit there with your spinning chair with that Kenyan flag wristband indicating the love for your country; “hakuna matata” tune playing in your head since you just won your last Sportpesa bet, thinking that this is a non-issue then think again.
Didn’t we just discover oil in Turkana? …reference “the resource curse”; post-election violence, tribal conflicts, Al-shabaab militia et.al now do you care to know who a refugee is? …good; Articles 1 and 2 of the United Nations (UN) Convention and Articles 1 and 2 of the Organization of African Union (OAU) Convention;…a refugee is a person owing to well founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality membership of a particular group or political opinion is outside their nationality and as a result of such events, is unable or, unwilling to return.
Forced Migration Programme
Kituo cha Sheria.