Film exploring the lives of urban refugees wins best documentary at Kenyan film festival

A hard-hitting film telling the stories of Nairobi’s urban refugees in their own words has won best documentary at the Eldoret Film Festival. Made by young Kenyans in an informal settlement, IIED premiered the film in September 2020, timed to coincide with the opening of the UN General Assembly.

News, 14 December 2021

IIED wishes to congratulate the filmmakers and interviewees of 'Protracted displacement and urban crises'. This unflinching look at the experiences of refugee households living in Mathare, a large and poorly resourced informal settlement in Nairobi, won best documentary at the 4th Eldoret Film Festival earlier this month.

The film was launched at an event organised by IIED, with an introduction by IIED director Andrew Norton, reflections from funders and a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers. 

Understanding life ‘under the radar’ 

In the documentary, women and men from Ethiopia, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are filmed in their homes, speaking frankly about the events that caused them to flee, their struggles finding shelter and work in Nairobi, and how COVID-19 is impacting on their lives and livelihoods.

The stories told demonstrate how little assistance many people receive as refugees, and the challenges they face dealing with the authorities and humanitarian agencies. 

Lucy Earle, who leads IIED’s work on urban displacement, said: “Urban refugees often live ‘under the radar’ with very little support from national government or international agencies.  

“This film has served as a way to amplify their voices, so that policymakers learn not just of their concerns, but can also see the contributions displaced people are making to local economies and societies, despite the daily hardships that they experience.” 

Young filmmakers support refugee voices  

The 40-minute film was edited and directed by young people, mostly from Nairobi’s informal settlements, who received training and other mentoring support from Know Your City TV (KYCTV) and Koch Films to document the often-traumatic experiences of urban refugees living in Mathare. 

The film is an example of how civil society organisations that have traditionally focused on slum-upgrading are reaching out to displaced people to ensure their views, needs and capacities are understood by and communicated to a broad audience.

The project was coordinated by Jack Makau and Jackline Wanyonyi with the support of Slum Dwellers International, Kenya (SDI-Kenya) and Muungano wa Wanavijiji, and funded by IIED and the Norwegian Agency for Exchange Cooperation (NOREC).

SDI-Kenya is currently working with IIED’s Human Settlements research group on the 'Protracted displacement in an urban world' research project, which is comparing the wellbeing and livelihoods of displaced people in urban areas with those living in camps across four countries: Kenya, Ethiopia, Jordan and Afghanistan.