Refugee girls, unable to escape these isolated camps, have requested UNHCR protection, ostensibly against forced marriage, revealing a challenge which protection officers and concerned refugees girls see as the next step in a process: protection against female genital mutilation and its consequences. UNHCR protection staff involved with the WVV Project have been sensitized to, and generally allowed to act on, the intricate link between protection and assistance.
While the rape of refugee women during firewood collection originally alerted the international community to the situation in the Kenyan camps and in turn resulted in generous donor support for the Project, the rape and mutilation of women collecting firewood, and of girls herding goats, continue unabated. While protection staff working with the Project have intervened in individual protection cases which are both gender- and age-specific, there remain a number of serious age-specific protection problems within the camps, notably early, forced marriages and female genital mutilation.
Yet despite the dread of repatriation expressed by Somali unwed mothers of children conceived as a result of rape in Kenya, and UNHCR's focus on voluntary repatriation as the preferred durable solution, little or no information was available about the reintegration in their country of origin of the few rape survivors who had attempted return. In collaboration with its implementing partner in Dadaab, the Project's community services staff has improved and supported the incorporation of women and their needs into the refugee community's decision-making process on issues such as material assistance and security.
It has also facilitated the training needed to launch a network of refugee men and women to counsel survivors of rape, accompany them through the procedures necessary to ensure their good health, and assist in the preservation and submission of evidence regarding their attack.
The disturbing number and nature of requests for medical assistance sounded the alarm; the refugees themselves did not. Following a UNHCR field staff investigation, a professional Somali woman rape counsellor was brought in to help UNHCR clarify the problem and conduct a needs assessment. As a result of this needs assessment process, the WVV Project was established with the following objectives: The Project staff include a coordinator, two protection officers and two community services officers who supervise local and refugee workers to help project implementation.
She worked with the refugees and local police to identify cases and determine the causes of the sexual violence and possible preventive measures for the camps. Project activities comprised a wide range of inter-related elements, from measures designed to improve physical security, notably the construction of thorn-bush fencing within the camps and the provision of material support to the local police, to community awareness-raising activities, such as the publication of a refugee newsletter and the training of refugee leaders.