Urban Congolese Refugees in Kenya: The Contingencies of Coping and Resilience in a Context Marked by Structural Vulnerability

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Abstract

The global increase in refugee migration to urban areas creates challenges pertaining to the promotion of refugee health, broadly conceived. Despite considerable attention to trauma and forced migration, there is relatively little focus on how refugees cope with stressful situations, and on the determinants that facilitate and undermine resilience. This article examines how urban Congolese refugees in Kenya promote psychosocial well-being in the context of structural vulnerability. This article is based on interviews (N = 55) and ethnographic participant observation with Congolese refugees over a period of 8 months in Nairobi in 2014. Primary stressors related to scarcity of material resources, political and personal insecurity, and emotional stress. Congolese refugees mitigated stressors by (a) relying on faith in God’s plan and trust in religious community, (b) establishing borrowing networks, and (c) compartmentalizing the past and present. This research has broader implications for the promotion of urban refugees’ psychosocial health and resilience in countries of first asylum.

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