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The Need For Refugee Wellness

By Steve Ephraem

THE Great Lakes Region and The Horn of Africa have produced most of the refugees and asylum seekers who trek into Southern Africa to seek protection.

Most of the displaced people from those parts of Africa cite military instability in their countries of origin as the chief reason that forces them to flee.

A lot of trauma is attached to civil wars.

There have been reports of abuse of young boys as they are forced into military, raping of women, torturing and butchering of innocent souls as bandits try to compel those in power to make dialogue with them.

Those who survive and decide to flee, face a lot of difficulties on the way. Many travel with inadequate food and clean water, sometime depending on the forest to acquire food. It is common that seasoned criminals pound on the powerless travelers and get away with whatever few valuable the migrants might be possessing.

Zimbabwe is one of the Southern Africa countries that have been giving protection to refugees since the 1980s.

Refugees who fled the Renamo-Frelimo war in Mozambique were housed at Chambuta in Chiredzi and Tongogara in Chipinge. After that conflict, the camps were closed in 1994. It’s only Tongogara that was revived in 1998 when the Great Lakes region became unstable.

Arriving in Zimbabwe for a refugee or asylum seeker doesn’t automatically translate to mental wellness. It is usually difficult to immediately erase the memories of what transpired in one’s country of origin. It requires a lot of psychosocial support for such people to rise again.

This is where development organisations’ interventions are called for. A medical humanitarian organisation, Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) which has been operating in Zimbabwe since 2000 is offering psychosocial support to refugees and asylums seekers at Tongogara Refugee Camp.

The organisation’s Mental Health Activity Manager, Janet Mukurumbira, claimed that mental challenges have a huge impact on the development of any society and people should ensure that they have a role to play in ensuring that mental health and well being of refugees is taken care of.

Medecins Sans Frontieres constructed a mental wellness hub which they named The Baobab. Mukurumbira indicated that the baobab tree is a symbol of resilience.

“The baobab is an indigenous tree that goes high, with roots that are strong and big as well as its strength of growing bigger in dry conditions. It speaks of strength, life and resilience. This resembles the resilience that refugees and asylum seekers have,” she said.

The interior of the Baobab wellness hub has to chat rooms, an office and an open space area with ablution facilities where games such as chess, scrabbles, puzzle and psychosocial sessions for individuals or groups shall be held.

The outside has a pitch for sporting activities such as basketball and volleyball can be played.

Through the planned activities at the hub, refugees and asylum seekers are expected to improve their well being and be able to gain strength to become self-reliant through income generation projects than wait for food handouts.