Shelter: Safe haven or prison?


One of the first steps to be taken by victims wishing to escape from the control of traffickers is to find a safe and secure refuge. Despite the prospect of continued abuse, many victims choose to stay because leaving can attract more danger and greater vulnerability. The lack of a safe and secure refuge often results in the victims’ return to their abusers after an initial escape, because of the fear of violence and the intimidation they are subjected to. It is therefore critical that real and practical options for their safety and security (in both the short and long term and in both the country of destination and that of origin) are made available to victims of trafficking.

Shelter homes are a form of protection and a most common form of emergency assistance available to trafficked persons in Kenya and many other countries. Shelter homes offer a safe and protected environment for Victims of Trafficking (VoT) in which they can begin their recovery and access a range of services such as accommodation, legal, medical, and psychosocial aid in a one stop shop fashion.

Types of Shelters

VoTs have short term and long term needs for a safe shelter. The nature of the shelter they need varies from one type to another. Some shelters offer comprehensive care services starting with supporting rescue efforts to reintegrating survivors. Shelters are classified in the following categories:

  1. Immediate, safe and short-term shelter

This type of shelter offers the victim a protected and secure environment for a short period of time. In these shelters, the victim is protected from harm from the trafficker and has access to immediate short-term assistance, this may include, medical, attention, legal information, psychosocial support.

  1. Temporary Shelter

Shelters in the state to which the victims are returning will often need to provide some support to facilitate the rehabilitation process and the victims’ reintegration in their families or communities. Without the protection of the shelter and the interim assistance it can provide, victims may be at risk of further harassment, or revictimization.

  1. Transitional Shelters

These types of shelters provide accommodation where victims can stay without fear of unwanted interference for a period of time while they recover from their ordeals and find some new direction for their lives. The essential elements of these shelters are a supportive environment, the provision of information about available services and access to community facilities and services. When victims are not faced with imminent deportation or repatriation, less institutionalized forms of shelter may be appropriate.

Staying at the Shelter in harmony: The CHTEA Experience

Every month, the CHTEA Transit Survivor Support Centre (Shelter) admits VoTs from different countries and walks with them until they are reintegrated back into their communities or until they repatriated back to their countries of origin.

At the shelter, CHTEA offers comprehensive care services that include but are not limited to accommodation, psycho-social support, medical care, family tracing and reintegration. Hosting VoTs has its own challenges as well, because sometimes foreign nationals may experience culture shock with respect to language barrier, food choices and the lengthy legal process to repatriate them among other challenges. Amidst all these challenges however, CHTEA supports the victims to the furthest possible ends while ensuring their safe return and reunion with their families.

The CHTEA experience in shelter management and supporting of VoTs/ survivors of human trafficking has come with a lot of lesson learning. This experience has provided a perfect opportunity for smooth and seamless repatriation process where survivors are encouraged to be patient with the procedures of case management. The Centre has some basic rules and regulations meant to govern the residential stay environment. Survivors sign against these guidelines as a commitment to fully cooperate with the shelter management and other survivors.  All potential shelter beneficiaries are normally processed from the office before they are moved to the shelter. At the office, they are screened and their needs identified and a dummy file presented at the shelter for further action/follow up.

As for CHTEA, it is paramount to be well informed about the survivors before admission and have a clear guideline and schedule of activities or routine for the survivors while at the shelter.

CHTEA also ensures the safety of the survivors as well as the staff. The staff are well trained in order to carry out their duties both efficiently and effectively; a skill which makes the survivors feel safe and protected as they wait to be reintegrated or repatriated.

Survivor Stories : Trapped by a false employment opportunity abroad.

Lali* is a 19-year-old young lady of Ugandan origin, the last born in a family of seven, she comes from a family where the mother is a widow and not financially stable. The mum could not support her schooling, she therefore dropped out of school while in form 2. Lali* always wished for an opportunity to get out of her country of origin for work to be able to support her family. Not long after, a friend called Peter * came visiting at her town of Mbale, Uganda in search of land to buy. The friend then met Lali* and shared with her about the lucrative and well-paying cleaner job in Nairobi, Kenya. This was a dream come true for Lali*. To add icing to the cake, the person would cater for her transport to get her from Mbale in Uganda to Nairobi.

On her way to Nairobi, Lali* was in the company of her 2-year-old niece, Blessing*. Lali* narrates that she did not have any travel documents, once they got to the border, they were advised to alight and cross the border on foot. Lali* obliged and her journey continued until she was in Nairobi. Once in Nairobi, Peter*, came to pick her up. Lali* was later taken to a place she would call home. She stayed with Peter* for 2 days and enquired about the job that she had been promised. To Lali’s* disbelief, there was no cleaner job that she would be posted to. Instead, she was to remain in the house and help with the house chores. Lali* says Peter* had told her he had a large 2-bedroom house, where they could both fit, she was shocked to find out that the house was a small tin-made single room in which she was expected to share with Peter * and her 2-year-old niece.

After staying for one week, Lali* could not take it anymore and she insisted to get the job she had been promised, but Peter* told her point blank that there was no job. That he had taken her in to be his wife instead. That is when Lali’s* problems started, she tried to resist this, but she realized that her life was in danger. If she refused to act according to Peter’s* orders, she would be mistreated or even handed over to police with concocted charges as an irregular migrant.

Lali* persevered staying with Peter* for 3 months during which period, she was denied medical treatment, denied food, raped, insulted, physically assaulted and her life threatened. On one occasion, Lali* was physically assaulted and was badly hurt. The incident raised a concern from neighbors regarding Lali’s* life. They came to her rescue and reported the case to the local chief who linked them up with a social justice center, which ensured Lali* was moved to a safer accommodation.

After her rescue and case assessment, Lali* was later transferred to a safe shelter, where she got medical help, psychosocial support, and accommodation. CHTEA, in partnership with the Ugandan Embassy in Kenya and the Religious Against Human Trafficking network we successfully helped Lali* reunite with her family back in Uganda and gave her a chance to fulfill her dream of going back to school.


Children voices in Human Trafficking.

Every year, the world commemorates World Day Against Human Trafficking (WDAHT). This day is set aside to raise awareness about human trafficking and to promote and protect the rights of trafficking victims. We can specify trafficking in three elements:  the act, the means and the purpose. What is done, how it’s done and why it’s done.

Traffickers deceive, coerce, threaten, abuse power and use force — the means and methods — to recruit, move, receive, shelter and maintain control of their victims, for the express purpose of exploiting them.

Exploitation includes, but is not limited to, the prostitution of others for sex, forced Labor or services, slavery or similar practices, servitude, or the removal of organs. Sex trafficking and forced Labor are the most notorious types of trafficking, but trafficking has other forms as well. Victims are also trafficked and exploited for benefit, fraud, as beggars, for forced or sham marriages, in pornography production and for organ removal. These other forms of trafficking are under-reported, do not receive as much public attention and contribute to the widely-held perception "trafficking doesn’t happen where I live."

Sadly, human trafficking is a global crisis. Trafficking in persons affects nearly every country in the world; no country is immune. The victims of trafficking are building our homes, cleaning our houses, processing our food and making our clothes. They are in our lives.

Amidst all this, sometimes children are forgotten. Child trafficking has become rampant and is not talked about most of the time. Most of these children are trafficked and exploited for begging, cheap labor, transporting of illegal merchandise, for pornography or forced child marriages.

In most cases, the perpetrators are well known by the guardians/parents/families of the children. The traffickers mostly approach families who are poor, are struggling financially to support their children. They convince the parents to give them their children, promising they will take them to school and give them a good life. Sadly, once the kids have been taken way, they are mistreated instead by the perpetrators for child labor, sexual abuse, prostitution among others.

By the virtue of the fact that the victims are children, they cannot give consent to anything and are therefore vulnerable to abuse. They are also naïve to report any of these incidents or they don’t even know where to report these cases because they are far away from home. Sometimes they are afraid of reporting the cases because this would mean thorough punishment which takes different forms such as thorough beating, starvation and harsh traumatizing treatments by the perpetrators.

The WDAHT, 2023 was commemorated on July 28th with theme; “Reach out to every victim of trafficking, leave no one behind”. CHTEA in partnership with Forum for Women, Candle of Hope Organization, Counter Trafficking in Persons Secretariat and the Nairobi County Children Services’ department convened a stakeholder County forum at the Kamukunji Sub-County on 21st July 2023 at the California Digital Center, Eastleigh. This was a build-up activity to highlight the issue of child trafficking. The project aimed at bringing together migrants, victims of trafficking and the government agencies and non-state stakeholders to provide a platform to share their experiences, challenges and way forward in building a lasting solution for them.