Beyond My Status: Celebrating refugee and immigrant resilience

Representatives of different stakeholders engage in a panel discussion during the celebration of resilience shown by refugees and immigrants in Kenya. The event was held on June 30, 2023, at the University of Nairobi. PHOTO/Courtesy.
  • Beyond acknowledging the struggles and highlighting resilience, this event sought to highlight the invaluable contributions made by refugees and immigrants. 
  • Through interactive sessions, participants were encouraged to engage in open dialogue and challenge preconceived notions about refugees and immigrants. 
  • It showcased Kenya’s commitment to supporting displaced individuals and provided a platform for attendees to share their inspiring stories.

In a world grappling with escalating refugee and immigrant crises, one event at the University of Nairobi stood as a beacon of hope, celebrating the resilience of those who have overcome the stigma associated with their status. 

This remarkable occasion, hosted by the Umoja Refugee Group and International Organization for Immigration (IOM), in collaboration with other partners, showcased the inspiring stories of refugees and immigrants living in Kenya.

Deemed the leading country in Africa in refugee intake, Kenya’s commitment to creating a supportive environment attracted different stakeholders to the event.

In recognition of the significance of this event, representatives from the Embassy of France, the International Rescue Committee (IRC), county government of Nairobi, Pawa254 community, Kenya Human Rights Commission, HIAS, RefugePoint, RelonKe, and RLOs initiatives, as well as various refugee communities’ leaders, among others, participated.

Participants follow proceedings during the event. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Deeply investing in refugee welfare, these prominent organizations sent delegates to lend their expertise and show solidarity with Kenya’s efforts. 

Eradicating stereotypes

Their presence accentuated both the global and local commitment to addressing the challenges refugees and immigrants face.

The University of Nairobi, often considered a hub of diversity and intellectual growth, provided the perfect backdrop for this uplifting event.

Set in the heart of Kenya’s bustling capital, the institution has taken a remarkable step to foster an inclusive campus community with its current leader of the student council, a Sudanese refugee woman who embodies the spirit of resilience and now serves as an inspiration to other refugees.

Through their shared experiences and determination, the attendees highlighted the strength and potential of displaced individuals eradicating the “burden” stereotype with more than just a displaced person.

Burundian traditional dancers showcasing their musical and dance dexterity during the celebration. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Beyond acknowledging the struggles and highlighting resilience, this event sought to highlight the invaluable contributions made by refugees and immigrants. 

Displaced individuals often bring diverse skills, experiences, and perspectives to their host countries, fostering multiculturalism and innovation. 

The story screening and the entertainment shared at the event emphasized the inherent potential every person, irrespective of their past circumstances, holds.

“There is nothing for us without us,” Jonas Ndayisenga, Co-founder and Executive Director of Umoja Refugee Group and an immigrant from Burundi, remarked.

Jonas Ndayisenga, Co-founder and Executive Director of Umoja Refugee Group, the planning and hosting organization of the event, giving his remarks. PHOTO/Courtesy.

One particular moving journey is that of Anne Marie Manishimwe, a young Rwandese immigrant, now a postgraduate student at Daystar University.

She overcame the odds to pursue a graduate degree program and secure a job in Kenya. 

From fleeing a war-tone homeland as a child, she demonstrated unwavering determination and now serves as a powerful advocate for refugees. 

A panelist narrates of some of the experiences. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Her journey illustrates the transformative power of education and highlights the crucial role of universities in supporting displaced individuals.

“Private sector and NGO’s can play a significant role in creating job opportunities and training refugees, which can help them acquire the skills they need to succeed in a workforce,” Ms. Manishimwe said concerning economic inclusion for refugees.

Former mayor of Nairobi, Joe Akech, the patron of the Safer Nairobi Initiative (SNI) addresses the participants. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Unrecognized

It is evidently true that some of the agencies still don’t acknowledge the refugee national identification cards even though the cards have the Kenyan emblem on them. 

With this, many of the refugees in attendance complained of financial exclusion. 

Panelists give their input during a panel discussion. PHOTO/Courtesy.

They claimed that however long they have been living in Kenya, many who started businesses that are doing well still can’t obtain financial aid such as loans and grants to expand their operations.

This is due to lack of papers. They called for awareness and a more recognizable identification system.

This year’s theme of World Refugee Day, Home Away from Home, highlights the resilience and challenges faced by refugees. 

Most of them lost everything and overcame socio-economic struggles and barriers in both host countries and in transit, such as disease outbreaks, drought and conflict.

Gahigo drummers from Burundi entertain the audience. Being refugees has not hindered them from thriving in diverse talents. PHOTO/Courtesy.

The event facilitated conversations aimed at breaking down stereotypes and fostering empathy among attendees. 

Through interactive sessions, participants were encouraged to engage in open dialogue and challenge preconceived notions about refugees and immigrants. 

Such efforts are crucial for creating a tolerant and inclusive society that embraces diversity.

All the event’s moments were worth capturing, and the participants (and the media) stored them for history. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Challenged hosts

It was also essential to acknowledge the challenges the host countries face when accommodating many refugees and immigrants. 

While Kenya has shown a commendable commitment to providing a safe space for individuals, there are still obstacles that need to be addressed.

Strained resources, from healthcare, education and infrastructure, are a major challenge. 

Ensuring adequate provisions for both the locals and the refugees can be complex as you cannot provide for one and leave out the other. 

A section of the participants follows proceedings during the event. PHOTO/Courtesy.

It is believed in Kenya that refugees, especially in urban settings and not camps, are way “loaded” than the hosts.

Arnaud Dupuis is a Project Officer for Civil Society and Humanitarian Affairs for the French Embassy in Kenya and Somalia. 

He works closely with refugees and immigrants in both refugee camps and urban settings.

He revealed that giving support to only refugees can cause disputes with the hosting communities.

Arnaud Dupuis giving his remarks. PHOTO/Courtesy.

The situation is often difficult on both sides and offering aid, which most organizations do, can be challenging.

The influx of refugees can have socio-economic consequences, with increased competition for jobs and resources, causing tension between the hosts and the displaced population. 

Language barriers

Navigating language and cultural barriers poses another threat.

Participants having a lens moment. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Scholar Media Africa had a catch-up interview with Yohan Annaone, a refugee who fled Eritrea due to political and governmental oppression.

He has been residing in Nairobi for the last four years.

Ms. Annaone explained that having not spoken English nor Swahili for the first 21 years of her life, she found it challenging to cope with the culture and lifestyle of what she now calls her “new home”.

To promote refugee inclusion and address the challenges refugees face in Kenya’s Kakuma and Daadab camps, organizations such as International Organization for Migration and the International Committee for Rescue have been working tirelessly to provide support, assistance and advocacy.

Some of the participants enjoying a photo session after the event. PHOTO/Courtesy.

The support goes further and beyond to even refugees in urban settings, as confirmed by Gerry Mtike, a Public Health Officer (migration health division, Kenya) under the IOM. 

They have opened a community health hospital in Kawangware, Nairobi, offering free healthcare to both refugees and host community locals.

Through mobile health units, clinics and mental health support, they strive to ensure refugees and host communities receive the care they require, thus promoting overall well-being.

A section of panelists and some guests pose for a photo after the occasion. PHOTO/Courtesy.

Creating a supportive environment for refugees and immigrants is a collective responsibility. 

By addressing the challenges faced by host countries, implementing innovative solutions, and promoting inclusion, countries like Kenya can continue to lead by example. 

Supporting them further

Kenya can further enhance the resilience and potential of refugees and immigrants by empowering refugee identities, strengthening mental health support, and encouraging NGOs to provide employment opportunities.

Through collaborative efforts, we can build a more compassionate and inclusive world where the contribution of every individual is valued, irrespective of their background.

Participants happy after the event. PHOTO/Courtesy.

The event celebrating the resilience of refugees and immigrants at the University of Nairobi was a powerful reminder of the indomitable human spirit and the potential for positive change. 

It showcased Kenya’s commitment to supporting displaced individuals and provided a platform for attendees to share their inspiring stories.

Through collective efforts, it is clear that every person, regardless of their past circumstances, has the capacity to contribute and thrive.

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This event serves as a call to action, urging nations and institutions around the world to create a similar environment where the resilience and potential of refugees and immigrants cannot be seen as a threat to the host country but rather be embraced and celebrated.

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Ms. Loise is a Communication Specialist with a bachelor's degree in Publishing and Media Science from Moi University, Kenya. She is a dedicated web developer and a climate change and environment writer. She also owns diverse skills in social media marketing. Her contact: loiselenser@gmail.com

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