Role of Mental Health Interventions in Refugee Protection: Case of Kampala City

Jacob Waiswa Buganga
Integrated Mental Health Initiative – IMI

Refugees move across international boarders from their countries of origin for safety, protection, and explore prospects of peace and development.

Once their statuses as refugees are determined, they receive state protection and benefit from social services. For example, they gain access  to public education and medical care.

This article examines the role of mental health interventions in refugee protection in Uganda with respect to urban refugees living in Kampala City.

The study used exploratory design and qualitative methods of research, involving purposive and convenient sampling techniques  in refugee collection centers, where they gather to receive support services from humanitarian agencies.  A total of 18 refugees and 3 key informants participated in the study. Analysis facilitated in-depth understanding and ranked common themes to show most eminent patterns of occurrences in line with study objectives.

The findings show that counselling is the main form of interventions by service providers, yet limited at refugee collection centers, where not every refugee easily accessed counseling service due to transportation challenges.

The refugees in the urban areas are less privileged like their counterparts in settlements. Urban refugees are expected to provide for themselves as the cost for leaving settlements to live in cities.

The refugees are not aware that there are mental health services nor have knowledge of mental health organizations in urban areas. Yet they exhibit trauma symptoms 10 years later after resettling in urban areas.

The security challenges within the host communities trigger reliving of old experiences while proximity to their countries of origin sustained fears of kidnap and murders.

Psychosomatic disorders are common and part of the daily lives of refugees without diagnosis, appropriate interventions, and followup.

This article concludes that mental health interventions are limited in refugee protection services. The refugees continue to live with various forms of disorders, like post-traumatic disorders, long-term aches, chronic depression, panic attacks, aggression disorders and disorientation, all of which undermine integration, progress towards self-reliance and implementation of the durable solutions strategies. Therefore, there is need to build capacity of organisations to provide effective and appropriate mental health services on longterm basis to refugees in urban areas.