Do you know what transpires between the time refugees flee from endangering situations to safe asylum? By the time they arrive at the different Reception Centers, all they have are the clothes on their backs and little to no household items that are essential for their day to day lives. HIJRA Uganda that manages the Reception Center in Nakivale Refugee Settlement receives asylum seekers on a daily basis from all over East Africa and most recently Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo due to the ongoing violence. I interviewed Stella Anguparu, HIJRA Psychosocial Assistant, to give us a little insight on what actually goes on during the refugees first moments at Nakivale Settlement and her experience working at the Reception Centre.
Walk me through the step-by-step proceedings at the reception centre? What is the first thing you do and why?
For starters we register Persons of Concern (POCs) and conduct interviews to get a brief background on who they are, where they come from and reason for flight which is essential on shedding light on which category of POC one will fall under. For example Extremely Vulnerable Individuals (EVIs) will receive different services as compared to any other group of refugees because they both have a specific support structures that works with one but cannot be compatible with another. We then proceed to allocating space for new arrivals within the available shelter, provide food coupons, simple orientation on what is offered at the Centre like water facilities, sleeping space and awareness sessions on medical and protection issues among others. A physical headcount then concludes this process which enables us know the number of POCs residing at the Reception Centre to ease the planning process.
How long does that process take?
Typically, the process takes one to three days depending on the number of arrivals. It is because the awareness session is conducted once a week since it is more detail oriented and lengthy but orientation is daily upon identification of a new arrival.
What challenges come with handling people with different backgrounds and cultures, how do you manage to stay in line with their beliefs and do your job?
The major challenge remains managing high expectations from the new arrivals with some of them expecting the highest quality of service which we are not able to provide given the competing priorities against available resources. It is advised that we treat refugees with patience and empathy because they have already experienced trauma so we listen and explain to them what we are able to support with and what we aren’t able to provide which is the least one can do. Another challenge is asylum seekers lack knowledge of the laws of the country of asylum so I also guide them on that so they are well equipped to make good decisions relating to asylum and avoid exploitation.
What major issues do most of the refugees come with?
No refugee case is similar to the last so each comes with their own unique problem but the denominator is the same, displacement. It is for that reason that interviews, orientation and awareness sessions are carried out. However a common issue among all is lack of a proper hygiene kit such as soap and sanitary materials and knowledge on the process of asylum.
According to you, what was the most challenging experience you have encountered while working at the Reception Centre?
The first months were a bit challenging because the centre was not in position to provide meals to new arrivals and basic necessities such as hygiene kits yet it was also the time when there was an influx of the Burundians. Generally, it was a bit overwhelming but am glad to let you know that with advocacy we were able to secure what’s necessary and are now providing meals for new arrivals.
What lessons have you learned so far?
The greatest lesson I have learned is the key to protecting POCs is providing basic needs such as food and equipping them with information to guide obtain the services they need.
What changes would you employ to better the conditions at the centre?
In future monthly meetings with the Reception Centre community to discuss the best way the community could support new arrivals would greatly help improve services to asylum seekers while they are here. After all, the best approach to protecting asylum seekers and refugees will always remain the community based approach!