Mariam* is one of about two dozen female refugees who have been subjected to sexual or domestic violence and who, in many cases shunned by their families, now live in a safe haven inside a camp in Kakuma, in northwest Kenya.
Mariam, who is married with two children, arrived in Kakuma in early 2009 from Dadaab, site of another refugee camp on the other side of Kenya. After Sudan’s 2005 peace accord, the family returned home, only to be forced back to Kenya by her father. She told IRIN of her experiences:
“My dad has had mental problems ever since I can remember. At moments he is normal but then all of a sudden he becomes uncontrollably aggressive. He starts shouting and beating up whoever is around him. People get so scared that no one dares to go close and stop him.
“I was terrorized every time he came close to me, wondering if he was okay at that moment or if he would start shouting or beating me.
“When I was 13 he burnt me with a piece of wood. This is why I have these scars on my chest and in the front of my neck.
“I thought that once I got married things would change. But I was wrong. He used to come to my place and force me to follow him wherever he was going. I was terrified he would beat me or kill me, so I did. Eventually after a couple of days of dragging me from one place to the other, and making me sleep in the bush, he would bring me back home.
“When the five of us were in Dadaab, he started taking medicines that the medical unit prescribed for him. Things started improving and I thought I could stop living in fear of his reactions. But I was wrong. He soon stopped taking the drugs, saying that people wanted to poison him. And there I was again waiting for the moments when he was uncontrollable.
“One day he forced me away from my husband and made me walk to Kakuma. He dragged me by the hair. I begged him to take my children with us. Somehow he listened to me.
“About three months ago I was sitting on a stone washing clothes. My children were around. He came up to me and tried to kill me with a machete. When people went towards him he started screaming and pushing them. He ran away, shouting that he would walk back to Sudan. No one knows where he is and I haven’t seen him since.
“Since then, the LWF [Lutherian World Federation] has put me into this protection programme. Here, I am safe. We have all we need, including security watching our compound. And when we walk out, we are always escorted. But I can’t believe I have to live like a prisoner because of my dad’s condition.
“I would like to be with my husband again but because of all that happened, we are still apart.
“Living with other women who went through similar experiences is a good thing. We talk a lot among ourselves, help and support each other to go over our experiences. But the fear that my dad could find me and hurt me still remains.”
* Not her real name
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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