7 MASKS 1 STORY – This is MASK 06 out of 7 MASK stories which will be told each day this week: If you care you will share!
If you have been following the series and already read this intro, you can skip to the header MASK 06, below:
For the past ten years I have been working with LGBTQ individuals and communities in several African Countries in the global attempt to thwart homophobia and deal with the casualties it causes. Not a day goes by without me receiving several heartbreaking e-mails, depicting terrible suffering. I am going to ask you to journey with me for 7 days while I bring 7 stories, this week, one per day, to these pages.
I have decided to highlight 7 actual communications on this BLOG in a series called MASK.
Over 30 countries on the continent of Africa criminalize human sexuality gender identity. This criminalization and the accompanying rhetoric by politicians and religious leaders, as well as abusive tabloid outings has led to untold persecution, requiring exile from home countries for many. Our work at African Human Rights Coalition is to collaborate for safety and solutions with those severely impacted by the anti-LGBTI milieu. Our website at www.AfricanHRC.org speaks to the work we are doing.
Currently there are serious problems for those seeking refuge, with few solutions and many linger in hopelessness and despair. The global refugee and asylum seeking system is failing LGBTQI refugees. They are not guaranteed resettlement and they suffer horrendously while waiting in hope for resettlement.
While we acknowledge that there are over 60 million displaced migrants in the world due to war, famine, climate, politics, persecution, etc., the LGBTQI refugees are the most marginalized among the marginalized, as even other refugees turn on them. Unlike straight refugees, the very violence LGBTQI individuals encountered in home countries persist while they are refugees. After they leave home countries the countries in Africa which host them as refugees are hostile host countries because they also have laws which continue to criminalize them! While straight people cross into countries where they are safe, LGBTQI people cross into countries where they are unsafe, even under UNHCR protection. Most cannot get off the continent into an accepting non-homophobic country because they may not qualify, the pipeline is jammed, there has been a reduction in refugee numbers by the U.S.A. with added hardship through Trump induced changes in asylum policies, and countries of refuge are simply not doing enough. And so while they wait many years, they are hard pressed for survival.
The Mask articles will mostly speak to the lives of LGBTQI individuals as refugees, giving direct voice, through their own words: These reflections of the refugees avoid the unconscionable, relentless, heartbreaking violence that led them into exile, and are intended mostly to show the hardship once in exile. So you can only imagine what came before to precipitate no choice but to be in exile in such despairing and hopeless circumstances. This has got to change. It is for this reason that I have decided to break my silence – as I have always kept these daily communications mostly private. The one’s that are revealed in MASK are revealed with permission and with anonymity guaranteed to the individual.
The symbol of the mask looms as a metaphor for those who have no choice but to hide – and even here with self-representation in the stories they tell, they must continue to hide. For years and years there is no safety. For years and years there is minimal food. For years and years there is barely a solution to survival. For years and years there is ongoing violence, which as it continues the refugees get physically ill and mentally exhausted.
It is important that the voices of LGBTQI refugees are directly reflected. So while many often point fingers at UNHCR, and their experience cannot denied, UNHCR is doing its best given limited resources, lack of solutions and hostile host governments. We need something innovative and different.
In MASK 06 I am giving voice to one of 3 major crisis that have loomed dangerously for refugees in Kenya in the past week as expressed by UNHCR themselves: Here is an advisory issued by UNHCR which gives their voice to the current concerns for LGBT. At African HRC we continue to be involved as an intermediary in these situations. If after you read this you would like to lend financial support to this situation, please consider donating to the Fundraisers listed below:
Dear colleagues,The following is a brief update on the current situation in Nairobi as of today, 15 June:UNHCR remains deeply concerned about the situation that arose around the 76 refugees with an LGBTI profile currently remaining in one house in the XXXXX area outside of Nairobi. We have been working throughout the day directly with the refugees, the Kenyan Government, our partners and other stakeholders including the Kenya Red Cross Society and will continue to do so to find a peaceful solution.Following a series of discussions with the authorities and UNHCR, it was decided that the refugees remain at the house under police protection until the next steps will be determined by senior Government officials on Monday. In the meantime, food, water and blankets are being provided.We remain concerned by the health situation of some individuals among the group. The police assured that any person with serious medical condition will be taken to a hospital without delay. We are also expecting the Kenya Red Cross Society to attend the house again tomorrow (Sunday) morning to assess the situation and to provide any required treatment. The majority of the refugees in this group are also receiving monthly financial assistance in line with support provided to other refugees with specific needs in Nairobi.We fully understand the challenges refugees and asylum-seekers, especially with an LGBTI profile, are facing in Kenya and we continue to work with the Government to address the policy, legal and documentation issues that represent obstacles to our persons of concern. UNHCR has been consistent in its insistence that refugees and asylum-seekers who do not reside in the designated refugee camps in Kenya make every effort to maintain a low profile by avoiding being in large groups and abiding by local laws to prevent conflict situations as those that have recently unfolded.We appreciate the financial support of private individuals and organizations that supplement the financial assistance provided by UNHCR. We appreciate, just as much, that many of you are helping us in passing on the above messages and advice. We trust that you will continue to do so.We will continue to keep you informed on the unfolding situation.Thank you.
XXXXX indicates redaction
Melanie Nathan in capacity as Executive Director of African HRC:
At this time the Kenyan government is continuing to insist on the eviction of large groups from housing and together with UNHCR we urge refugees to use their stipends to seek accommodations in smaller groups, as directed by UNHCR.
We understand that the protection in smaller units is not optimum, yet are assured that the smaller the group and the lower the profile the better the chances for safety for individual refugees. That said no refugee should have to live in a way that involves hiding in a country of refuge, the host country. They ought to be safe regardless of WHO they are!
Yet LGBTQI people must hide, because even their host country, in effect a hostile host, continues to criminalize their sexuality.
With funding we can help mitigate the safety related issues. At this time we are stretched with no funding and the ability to provide added financial aid, is minimal. The milieu for LGBTI refugees is terribly damaged by the Donald Trump Refugee and Border Policy which reduced the number of refugees to the United States. The U.S.A. is contributing to the failed care for LGBTQI refugees with its slower process, inadequate policies and resources to keep the pipeline smooth and operational. We must open the pipeline and get LGBTI people to safer countries.
African HRC is urging ALL refugees in Kenya’s urban areas to leave large groups for smaller groups and to maintain low profiles. That is the best we can all do now given the current state of evictions of large groups in Kenya. Tp resist will mean arrest and will be harmful to the refugee’s resettlement process.
JOIN THE FIGHT! If you would like to be active in helping we need cash donations, volunteers, and qualified board members who can fundraise: Please write to – nathan@AfricanHRC.org and donate at www.AfricanHRC.org/donate. DONATE to Refugee Safe Shelter HERE.
READ MORE AT LONGREADS “CAUGHT BETWEEN BORDERS”: https://longreads.com/2019/06/11/caught-between-borders/
The MASKS: These Masks were hand painted by refugees and asylum seekers who made it to Bay Area San Francisco. They were used symbolically in my San Francisco Pride 2014 Community Grand Marshal Contingent to reflect on the fact that despite the support of the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Obama President/ Kerry Secretary of State administration – did not grant VISAS to African LGBTQI individuals who were invited to march with us in SF Pride 2014. The embassies refusing the VISAS at that time – were following our law, and new policy is making those laws even harsher. Something different and special needs to happen for humans who are accused of criminality when they love! #7Masks1story
UNHCR System is Not Working for Persecuted LGBTI Refugees: READ MASK 01 HERE
Desperation for Sick LGBTQI Refugee: READ MASK 02 HERE
Gay Refugee Plight Screams for Humanitarian Basics: READ MASK 03 HERE
Lesbian Refugees Destitute in Kenya: READ MASK 04 HERE
Mistreatment of Lesbian Asylum Seeker Reveals Corrupt South African Officials: READ MASK 05 HERE
UNHCR Deeply Concerned about LGBTI Refugees in Kenya: READ MASK 06 HERE
BY MELANIE NATHAN