Refugee woman and the experiences of local integration in Nairobi, Kenya
- It seems trendy for current studies to argue that the term refugee is no more than a policy category which does not reflect the circumstances of the people that it subsumes. Such studies further argue that the circumstances of refugees are not necessarily different from those of local populations. This study argues that theoretical positions emanating from such observations do not have a universal application as illustrated in Nairobi where the term refugee is not merely a policy category or legal label but also experiential. Understanding the concept refugee is very much an outcome of empirical enterprise which locates those who bear the refugee status in specific contexts. The study draws attention to cases of targeted rape, raids, exclusionary discourses epitomised by negative stereotyping and xenophobia as well as refoulement which are specifically aimed at refugees in Nairobi. The refugee status is intertwined with other variables such as refugees´ ethnic, national and religious identities in ways that restrict inclusion of refugees into the host country. As a gendered experience, exile impacts on intra-household dynamics and transforms gender roles and relations within refugee households in ways that are simultaneously enabling and challenging for refugee women. Although local women also experience Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV), for refugee women this intersects with the vulnerability that the refugee status entails resulting in refugee women being abused even by police officers and officials who are tasked to protect them thus leaving them with limited channels for recourse. SGBV thus becomes salient because of its targeted nature. Emphasised in the study is the fact that refugee women are heterogeneous such that it is more appropriate to refer to refugee women´s experiences rather than the refugee woman experience. Exile as occupation of marginal space is however not solely about constraints as it also creates opportunities and possibilities that may not have been available to the women prior to flight. Contradictory as it may seem, the refugee status is mediated by the same variables that lead to exclusion at a macro level in ways that facilitate inclusion at a micro, interpersonal level characterised by interaction between refugee women and locals as fellow congregants or as neighbours who share the same plight of poverty in Nairobi´s slums. This is coupled with refugee women´s agency by which they convert obstacles into resources and create space for themselves in a country which advocates encampment and expects refugees to reside in the designated areas. Through their own agency, refugee women are able to navigate structural barriers meant to deter integration in ways that demonstrate that the absence of an official integration policy does not necessarily deter integration; individual agency has a countervailing impact on measures instituted to deter integration.