Building on the experiences of harm reduction work in the Netherlands and in Pakistan, Bridging the Gaps partners Mainline and Nai Zindagi jointly organised a training on ‘Comprehensive outreach-based harm reduction services’ in Kenya.  The training (held from 12-16 August) was organised for staff from Mainline’s three Kenyan partner organisations OMARI, MEWA and REACH OUT and aimed at increasing their knowledge and skills related to harm reduction services for people who use drugs (PUD), particularly focussing on people who inject drugs.

The participants expressed their concerns about the security of drug users and service providers. In March, after the elections, the new Governor of Mombasa County (who in the past was accused of being involved in drug trade),  has ordered the police to be very strict and harsh. Since then, police harassment has increased substantially. And this became clear right after the training.

From theory to practice: dealing with the police

After three days of training, the participants went out to practice what they had learned on the ground.  The trainers went with them to observe and supervise when needed.  Here is what Joost, one of the trainers reported.

“The team I joined was preparing for everything (needles, forms/pens, water, meals, clothes, shoes, etc.). Then the team heard of police raids, but after some discussion we still decided to go. When we arrived at the area, the team decided to leave all the commodities in a friend’s shop and to enter the field empty-handed,  to prevent being stormed at by needy drug users. Since the police had just left, the area was quite empty, with the exception of a few residents and a lot of kids.

After some ten minutes, we heard the sounds of dogs barking. Soon a group of kids started running away and a team of police officers appeared at the spot. Dressed in green and camouflage clothing, they all carried automatic weapons, rubber sticks and whips. In addition, they brought two German shepherds on a leash, not wearing a muzzle. It was a group of some eight police officers, one or two women and the rest men.
One guy in Bermuda and a beanie on his head, who had helped us carry a box of materials from the streets to the spot , got immediately lashed with a whip in front of where I was sitting on a ledge. I stood up and told the police officer to take it easy.

Another officer then walked up to me, his face close to my face, asking who I am, what I’m doing there and whether I’m with that guy (pointing to the guy he just beat up and who another officer is now holding and frisking). I stammer and tell them that we’re here to help drug users, to refer them to the rehabilitation and detox centre and that we clean the streets from used needles. After some serious staring, he turns away.  Then he took off the hat of that same guy, searched between his dreadlocks, emptied his pockets but only found a Stanley knife. Finally, they decided to leave the place. Everybody was a little shaken, but okay.

Afterwards, one of the outreach workers told me that the guy got mad because that same police officer who whipped him, had sold him heroin only a few weeks ago. Finally, the team could start doing their work:  register the users that were present, provide them with information or the services they need and/or refer and take them to a health or legal services. A nice insight into the reality of drug use on the streets of Mombasa… “


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