For the past several years I have been communicating and working directly with LGBTI refugees Kenya- both in Nairobi and Kakuma Camp. I have advocated for the community as a whole and on an ad hoc basis for individuals, balancing the refugee reports of insecurity and failed protection against working with UNHCR staff to find solutions. No refugee is guaranteed resettlement. Resettlement is the ultimate goal. Its been difficult to navigate advocacy while understanding the limitations experienced by UNHCR with regard to funding and the impositions of a hostile host country, and a slow or stagnant pipeline of countries willing to resettle refugees. Kenya criminalizes LGBT people and those working in the UNHCR system are often accused of homophobia. The whole situation is a set up for further persecution and violence.
Last week the horror that has been Kakuma camp came to a head when 30 refugees demonstrated their untenable hardship by delivering a petition for change to the UNHCR compound sub office at Kakuma. Kenyan police were called and attacked and beat the refugees.
After an outcry UNHCR issued a Statement which can be read here.
The good news is that UNHCR has finally recognized that it is impossible to keep the LGBTQ refugees safe in Kakuma and has commenced a program to transport all to Nairobi. Many questions remain open, the transition is tenuous and there is uncertainty as to how the refugees will be maintained and survive in Nairobi. The current group of Nairobi refugees, those who were not in Kakuma, have been compelled to fend for themselves, often resorting to sex work to survive, a most dangerous situation. Now the question is – will the new arrivals from Kakuma receive the attention they need, to include ongoing medical assistance and relief from pain. And how can we help those already in Nairobi?
One of the biggest complaints is medical attention for those in need. While UNHCR down played the injuries in the Kakuma attack, many are presenting with more serious injuries and we have had to advocate for urgent and decent attention.
Usually I do not publish stories or communications such a this one below, for fear of the danger of such publication and the possible prejudice to the refugee. However this balancing act and the desperate needs have got to the point where some courageous refugees are asking for publication to the world – at whatever risk – in the hope that they receive resettlement with a concerted effort at aid and protection through the process. One must be reminded that many of these refugees have been left lingering without communication as to the the advancement of their process, for years, with appointments six months apart and then often cancelled without notice – only to be postponed for another six months.
Here is a communication from the Joseph Kisitu who has asked to be named and for this to be reported in his words as follows:
My name is Joseph Kisitu and I am a Ugandan LGBTI refugee. I was in Kakuma Refugee Camp for two years and two months, but am now in Nairobi, where I was taken last week. I don’t know exactly where I am. While at Kakuma, I was a community leader of some 200 LGBTI in a population of some 180,000. Kakuma is one of the largest refugee camps in the world, under the responsibility of UNHCR. It is also one of the most dangerous for LGBTI people, due to the violence of other refugees, mainly Somali and Sudanese, as well as the local Turkana people. The hatred these have for gay people is murderous.
I was responsible for organising a peaceful demonstration on 11th December, to protest against the terrible conditions that we live in, without adequate shelter, food or medical attention, and we went to approach the UNHCR sub offices in Kakuma to present our petition, which I signed. This turned violent as the UNHCR called in the Kenyan police, who started to harshly and brutally beat and torture us. I had a finger partly removed and am suffering considerable pain. I am suffering paralysis in the right hand, and I was only given painkillers at Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Nairobi after surgery: these are not strong enough to deaden the pain I am going through. (Please see image attached.) In addition to the wound to my hand, a policeman stepped on my back and ribs and started beating me.
I have received several threats because my name has appeared everywhere as the ring leader of the demonstration. The peaceful march was organised based on the fundamental Bill of Human Rights in the Kenyan constitution, clause 37. This didn’t sound well for one of the RAS security persons in Kakuma who called me and started threatening me with closure of my file with RAA and resettlement case: his name is RANSOM SAMAL. Up to now, am in agony not knowing whether my files were closed as he mentioned.
I am in terrible pain and stressed up with my life with worries of what Ransom Samal told me in his threats.
Therefore, I call on well-wishers, advocates and the UNHCR to help me so that I can be in a better life because I deserve my rights as an LGBTI, as well as proper medication. I will also be very happy to receive assistance and help from UNHCR.
I am appealing to all who care to keep up the pressure on UNHCR to honour its pledge to improve conditions in my life and for other LGBTI refugees. Until now, the agency has not fulfilled its mandate, which is to protect all refugees, and has been employing actively homophobic officers who openly stall resettlement processes out of spite or for financial gain, as the longer a refugee is in the care of UNHCR, the more money these individual officers receive.
Thank you for your attention.
When a person escapes anti-homosexuality persecution and violence in their home country and seeks safe shelter under the UNHCR umbrella of protection, while waiting for resettlement, that refugee is entitled to expect security and safe shelter in the host country and should never be threatened by staff when self advocating or expressing needs.
That refugee is entitled to expect a roof over their head, food and medicine and to be free of the violence that sent them into exile. How this has been handled in Kenya has been subpar. In short funds are needed and the opening of the pipeline for resettlement abroad is critical, with a guarantee that LGBTI people are given priority and that their cases will be expedited within the constraints of requisite vetting, as there is simply no safe and non-homophobic safe-haven for them on the continent at this time, bar South Africa, which for many reasons is not an option.
Note: RAS: The Refugee Affairs Secretariat(RAS)manages all asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya. It’s a department under the Ministry of Interior and Coordination.
Note: African HRC and other advocates have been requesting UNHCR plan for the safe protection and humane living conditions for LGBTQ refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp for several years, with only slight ad hoc and ultimately ineffective results. Those harsh conditions and insecurities led to a protest this week and an attack by Kenyan police on the refugees, mostly Ugandan nationals. We reported that attack in the words of the refugees HERE.
Note: We have not reached out for comment on the threat exposed by the officer named in this communication, though this communication was apparently sent directly to UNHCR.
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1. UNHCR will need partnerships and organizations coming forward to specifically offer funding for safe shelter, food, transport and medicine for LGBTQ refugees in Nairobi. Often urban refugees are left to walk the streets, forced into sex work, even while under UNHCR care, in order to survive. This only exacerbates the danger of being in a host country that is hostile to LGBTQI people, further criminalizing them. It is critical that any funding is earmarked for LGBTQ resources and safe shelter in Nairobi.
2. African HRC needs urgent funding to continue to provide ad hoc country conditions reports, advocacy and direct humanitarian assistance. www.AFRICANHRC.org/donate We need immediate operational funds to cover expenses. We do not take salaries at this time. We are asking all fellow organizations to consider small grants or contributions so we can continue this work. We also seek the assistance of development volunteers.
3. We are seeking to form partnerships in advocacy to strategize and impact U.S. policy – to start re-opening the pipeline for LGBTQ refugees to be resettled, mitigating the effect of Trump refugee policy and quotas on LGBTQ refugees.
To read more about this – please see the UNHCR Statement on the violent even that occurred and my comments in this article: https://oblogdee.blog/2018/12/13/unhcr-calls-out-the-violent-kenyan-police-attack-on-lgbt-refugees/