Dadaab: Healing the Wounds of Torture Under a Cloud | The Center for Victims of Torture

Dadaab: Healing the Wounds of Torture Under a Cloud

Curt Goering
Friday, June 24, 2016

Curt Goering is CVT’s executive director.

Imagine what it would be like to be told that in a few short months, your world would be turned upside down. You would be turned out of the only home you’d ever known and expected, without resources, to keep body and soul together not only for yourself, but for your children and extended family. Now imagine that you are a torture survivor, very much in the middle of regaining control of your life, when this news comes. This is what the residents of Dadaab are contending with right now.

As I think about this year’s UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture—which we join the world in honoring on Sunday, June 26—my mind keeps returning to the situation our clients and staff are facing in the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya, the world’s largest yet often-forgotten refugee camp. While the Kenyan government declares that Dadaab will be shut down later this year and its residents forced to relocate, a building feeling of suspense in the camp is palpable. Of the 611 clients we saw in Dadaab in 2015, a full 562 of them reported they had endured torture. CVT’s mission is to heal the wounds of torture on individuals, their families and their communities, but the healing journey for many of our clients—and the sense of stability for many of our staff—has been hijacked by a deep sense of uncertainty.

Many CVT clients, as well as a number of my colleagues—some of whom are also refugees—have lived in Dadaab their whole lives. And many have never set foot outside of the camp.

Some of our clients feel that their burden has been increased and their healing process is affected, according to Sarah Farah, field coordinator for CVT Dadaab. The thought of “returning home” elicits feelings of hopelessness for some, because they fear that they have no home to return to, since the militia occupied their original homes. “Some clients fear that the government might use force to assure repatriation, and so they are panicking,” said Sarah. “Our clients are being asked by other refugees for information about repatriation, and many are purchasing radios so they can listen to the latest news reports and stay informed,” she added.

CVT staff describe general anxiety, worry and uncertainty about the future when asked how they feel about the possibility of a shutdown. “Some of our staff know Kenya far better than they know Somalia, and so are not sure where they belong—they do not consider themselves either Somali or Kenyan,” Sarah explained. “Most of our staff came from Jubaland, some areas of Jubaland are still occupied and under the control of Al-Shabaab, and so they do not know where to go.” Some staff members describe a fear of job loss and subsequent loss of livelihood, and feeling overwhelmed by the need for information.

We know from decades of working with torture survivors how resilient the human spirit can be. I’ve witnessed what healing can do, and seeing these transformations is a humbling experience. The situation in Kenya is complex and important. As we commemorate this special day in honor of victims of torture, I urge those involved in these decisions to remember the individuals whose lives are affected by the outcome, but also affected so deeply during this process.

CVT’s work in Dadaab is funded by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture and the United Methodist Women International Ministries.


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