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.

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