7 MASKS 1 STORY – This is MASK 07 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 07, 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.
MASK 07 reflects on the difficulties in Kakuma Camp, Kenya for refugees. Since this time, most have left as the camp turned out to be too violent for LGBTQI refugees. However the importance of noting this story is to realize the limitation for LGBTI refugees. They are in a catch 22 situation at this time. UNHCR cannot provide guarded protection due to lack of resources and the fact that the Kenyan Government will not allow large groups of refugees to be accommodated in or on outskirts of urban areas. The only place LGBTQI refugees can be accommodated is in Kenyan suburban communities, in small groups, rendering little to no protection if their sexuality or gender identity is exposed. Kenya is a hostile host country which also criminalizes LGBT people.
I am 24 years and a lesbian: I have lived a hopeless life for up to 4 years as refugee and what I have gone through felt like a lifetime not a mere 3 long years. This is coz my life changed so negatively and it all started after I had to leave Uganda because of excessive homophobia to flee for my life to Kenya. Shortly on my arrival I got relocated in the same community of the equally homophobic people within Nairobi and life didn’t change at all coz I even didn’t know (Swahili) the national language. I got threatened many times, beaten up more often, house evictions followed and threats of deportation which triggered me to camp at UNHCR compound in Nairobi for two weeks with a lot of coldness and rain fall everyday along side other colleagues. UNHCR expected us to move thinking it’s was dramatic of us but the truth is that we had nowhere else to go, those that had, left us until we remained only 16 and we were taken to the camp. So that marked the beginning of hell.We reached Kakuma refugee camp ,so hot with temps up to 96°-99° we noticed it would be harder than we thought but in side me I kept strong that I would go through the tough times.the water is very salty, there are snakes and scorpions , centipedes all over, yet the antidotes are less accessible due to the distance between the community and the hospital.There is alot of homophobia to the point that I was sentenced to jail and a few of the members I was with coz of our appearance and with claims of spreading immorality and insulting the community through which two of our members were sent to court after two more weeks of Jail in the main prison of Loduar. God saved them, they came out safe but one got in injury on his leg and this might be permanent.Back in community, life is about survival for the fittest no jobs coz clearly no one employs homosexual, no food since the food that UNHCR provides per month, only last for 3 days approximately, constant attacks in the community and outside, it was wherever we would be – so much homophobia , literally no where to run or hide or rest. Even the sun in 99° makes me go nuts and the only option I was left is to cry to UNHCR . we went as a group of 16 or more to the compound, the guards denied us access to the officers in charge, they later came and asked us to leave without hearing us out, we decided to stay with fear of being attacked by the Turkana people but all the same the general police,( GSU) came beat us up so badly regardless of which body part, that night we scattered in different ways uncertain , some guys after being beaten were got from police cell with blood pouring out of their bodies and others were found the following day but five of us slept in the hospital .XXXXXX was the senior protection officer who can testify what happened that evening to the point where they found a group of our fellow LGBT put in a group by trukana people who wanted to stone them to death. The officer, a woman, stood in the middle with the guys and that’s how they survived coz the trukana people feared hurting the white person (muzungu)and she had come with enough security.We were taken to hospital were we slept overnight with no food but on medication until the following day in the evening UNHCR brought food for us we sleep in UNHCR compound . The following day six transgenders were taken to safe house we didn’t get a chance coz of claims that it’s full in the safe house .Every now and then we had new problems cropping up , restlessness was the thing going on , insults Everytime and no peace on Earth in the camp.This whole experience made me so disturbed that I felt like life has lost meaning. I was dying in side but moving physically every time I would hear a cockcrow I would get worried on how the day would be with out food, I got so dehydrated and I lost all the weight, and I feel like I lost my soul in Kakuma.My happiness and my sweet smile disappeared. I also looked older than my age by 15 years . The process became slow that no one ever listened to our greivancies. Trump comes in shortly in 2017 and disaster struck us we go our files on hold and I was only left with the schedule for traveling to the US, I sat for 9 months now that was another kind of heart break .I won’t be able to explain that experience further than this- but I tried out , being scheduled for flight, multiple times but they get counselled untill when I finally got granted flight and when I was traveling from Kenyatta international airport, I was silent coz I thought it was a joke. I arrive after many hours of travel and one 7weeks but I feel their is a part of me that died and needs to be recovered however life still continues.I would describe my experience as the worst that I never ever I say ever want anybody to go through even if it’s my enemy and this kind of life, has had many people dead inside but live on the outside i hope that one day, God will make away for the remaining people to find peace through his grace .Thanks!.
XXXXX indicates redaction
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
MASK 01: UNHCR System is Not Working for Persecuted LGBTI Refugees: READ MASK 01 HERE
MASK 02: Desperation for Sick LGBTQI Refugee: READ MASK 02 HERE
MASK 03: Gay Refugee Plight Screams for Humanitarian Basics: READ MASK 03 HERE
MASK 04: Lesbian Refugees Destitute in Kenya: READ MASK 04 HERE
MASK 05: Mistreatment of Lesbian Asylum Seeker Reveals Corrupt South African Officials: READ MASK 05 HERE
MASK 06: UNHCR Deeply Concerned about LGBTI Refugees in Kenya: READ MASK 06 HERE
MASK 07: LGBTI Refugee: I lost my Soul in Kakuma Camp Kenya: READ MASK 07 HERE
BY MELANIE NATHAN