Death in UNHCR Kakuma Camp and Conditions Impacting LGBTI Refugees

By Melanie Nathan, This week one death and others hospitalized!

We are posting pictures of the funeral of Isaac Byaruhanga who died this week in Kakuma camp, Kenya, after contracting Typhoid.  Mr. Byaruhanga, a Rwandan national, was a friend to many other refugees in the camp and we are informed that his loss will be sorely grieved. Though not a member of the LGBT community, he was a trusted and accepting friend.

Refugees are reporting their fears, as typhoid is spreading in the camp, where conditions are unsanitary and unsafe, and where it is reported that very little is being done to remedy the conditions.

Major public health problems arise causing substantial morbidity and mortality in these displaced populations due to inadequate or unprotected water supplies, poor sanitation and hygiene, overcrowding, and limited resources.

At this time we have received a report that 2 members of the LGBTQI community are hospitalized with conditions similar to Typhoid.

We have not contacted UNHCR for comment.

Kakuma Camp was established in 1992 and was meant to have a maximum capacity of 70,000 residents, but by 2015, the population had risen to 183,000. This led to the Turkana County government allocating land for a new settlement, which integrates both refugees and the host community, about 40km northwest of Kakuma.

Informal settlements are constructed using a variety of materials such as iron sheets, mud, or traditional thatching. The camp lies in an area which is dry, baking hot, windswept and prone to dust storms. The climate vacillates from a sweltering 40 degrees celsius during the day to the low 30s at night, on occasion yielding torrential rains with flooding, causing unrelenting mud rivers swirling between encampments.

Refugees are supposed to be protected by UNHCR and the host country. While Kakuma ought to be a safe haven, a variety of venomous spiders, snakes, and scorpions, which together with deadly outbreaks of malaria and cholera/ typhoid have posed grave challenges to the refugees, the host Turkana community and personnel working for the various humanitarian agencies operating in the region. For LGBTI refugees added to the stress engendered by the harsh environment is the anxiety caused by the heterosexual refugee population, who despise their presence, as well as the cruel and harsh treatment of gays by the local Turkana authorities.

Recently a refugee who had been resettled in the Bay Area, California told me “Kakuma is hell. I lost my soul in Kakuma.” Those words haunt me each day as I go about my work of advocacy, reflecting on how we are barely able to make a dent in these problems.  I think about how the Kakuma LGBTI community is struggling and hoping that their resettlement processes will be expedited. Instead, since Donald Trump took over the U.S. Presidency, things seem to have slowed down, with hope for many dwindling.

Take a look at these pictures and imagine being stuck there for many years, waiting and waiting and wasting away!

From African HRC:

African Human Rights Coalition continues to advocate for all issues impacting LGBTQI refugees in several African countries. At this time many refugees in Kenya are expressing frustration with slow progress and poor communications between refugees and UNHCR. LGBTQI refugees are complaining that it is taking 6 months and sometimes longer between appointments, which are often cancelled and postponed for many more months ahead, with little to no explanation.  We continue to receive reports of poor protection for the security of LGBT refugees in the camp, who are subject to the threats of homophobia at the hands of fellow refugees and authorities alike. In the case of LGBTQI people, extreme stress further exacerbates health related issues.

Here are pictures of Mr. Byaruhanga’s funeral:



Posted by Melanie Nathan.

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3 thoughts on “Death in UNHCR Kakuma Camp and Conditions Impacting LGBTI Refugees

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