Just this week I received the NLGJA Award for excellence in blogging. In December 2018 I had written about an attack on LGBTQI refugees while peacefully protesting the horrendous Kakuma Camp conditions and insecurities. Since the time of writing that article, many problems persisted and has brought LGBTI refugees back full circle to the dreaded Kakuma camp.
That December protest led to police and local security attacking the LGBTQI refugees causing injuries to at least 30. This resulted in almost all known LGBTQI refugees being transported by UNHCR to a temporary safe shelter in Nairobi, called Kitengela. Since January several left Kitengela to join other LGBTQI urban refugees in various local Nairobi and outskirt communities, dispersed in small and larger groups among Kenyan society, and 16 remained in the Kitengela safe shelter.
The Kenyan Government made it clear to UNHCR and the refugees at Kitengela and other larger forming groups, including one of 76 mostly LGBTQI individuals, that large refugee groups in urban areas is against Kenyan law and policy. Accordingly when the remaining 16 refused to leave Kitengela, they were served with an eviction order by the local authorities and Kenyan Government. Negotiations ensued. HIAS and UNHCR worked out a stipend deal for the refugees to settle in small groups of 3 to 4 in community areas. The refugees still refused to leave as they held on to the hope that UNHCR would find another group safe-shelter that would be under security guard.
UNHCR made it clear to the 16 that this was not possible as it defied host country law and policy and in any event there would be o resources available for such an option. The refugees refused, despite weeks of negotiation, including my own attempts at such, even with added incentives.
Having spoken to several of the refugees individually I fully understood their concerns. I spent many hours in negotiation and despite explaining to them that there was simply no option but to take the UNHCR HIAS deal, they still refused.
I believe many were so traumatized by prior suffering and recent starvation that it was difficult for them to make clearly thought out decisions. Even when told in person and writing, by UNHCR, the local Chief, other activists and myself that failure to abide the order would result in a arrests and charges that could hamper their resettlement, they persisted in their refusal to vacate and move to other residences in small groups. They were also aware of the known abuse of police toward LGBTQI people. Yet the still refused to move.
Ultimately the Kenyan Government has now clamped down on several large groups.
The 16 in Kitengela were indeed arrested, as I, UNHCR and others had warned, and are now facing misdemeanor charges which could impact their resettlement process. They too may be transported soon to Kakuma.
I am writing this – so it serves as a warning to ALL refugees – to first and foremost obey the laws of host countries. Refugees who are LGBTQI are especially on notice that local police in hostile host countries will gladly jail and charge LGBTQ refugees and to flagrantly disobey law and orders is non-win for LGBTQI refugees.
BBC is now also reporting the arrest of another large group of LGBTQI refugees as follows:
Kenya’s government has ordered a group of 76 refugees to return to a camp they had fled after some of them faced homophobic attacks, a UN agency says. Police with guns escorted the group on to buses on Wednesday night, photos sent to the BBC by the refugees show. The group had been living in temporary accommodation in the capital, Nairobi, after fleeing the refugee camp.
Gay sex is illegal in Kenya and the countries where the refugees come from, including Burundi and Uganda.
Last month Kenya’s High Court upheld a law criminalising gay sex.
The government is quoted by the UN as saying that refugees “should be living in camps and, if they reside outside of camps, it should be with appropriate documentation”.
The UN said it would protect the group in the camp.
Tens of thousands of people live in the camp. Most of them fled conflict and drought in countries such as South Sudan and Somalia.
The refugees also sent African HRC photos of the arrest.
They are deeply disturbed and terrified of being returned to the camp that they fled.
We still do not know where the 16 from Kitengela will be sent. We are unsure whether they will again be given the option to return to small communities in Urban areas and whether they will refuse to do so. In such event, there is no doubt they will be returned to Kakuma and some possible deported back to persecuting countries.
AGAIN I reiterate that if refugees try and reside in large groups they will be arrested and transported back to the awful Kakuma camp.
However what this all speaks to ultimately is that there are no feasible solutions for LGBTQI people escaping horrific violence, discrimination and persecution as those very conditions persist in hostile host countries.
There are no resources to or legal mechanisms to provide for safe shelter in large groups, if not in camps and the camp is not secure for LGBTQ people. The conditions are harsh and squalid. This is not life for anyone.
The conditions in Kakuma are unsanitary, dangerous and attacks as well as the threat of attack by local Turkana people and Sudanese refugees is a constant, as homosexuality continues to be seen as an abomination and a curse on the Camp. The police are the enemy and not a source of protection for LGBTQ camp dwellers. And like in their home countries, LGBTI people experience extortion and abuse at the hands of police. Unfortunately UNHCR faces many challenges including the lack of funds, an uphill battle against the homophobia of the host country and heterosexual refugees.
It is time for us all to face the challenge in Africa and globally – to bring an end to persecution and discrimination of gays, lesbians, trans, bisexual and intersex individuals. It is time to stop the hate. it is time to decriminalize sexuality and gender. It is time to open the USA pipeline for LGBTQI refugees. I believe that the Trump admin is thwarting resettlement not only by the obvious cutting back of refugee admission numbers, but also by purposefully limiting the funding staffing and resources needed to keep the pipeline moving.
To HELP: We need funds, we need volunteers, we need you! Contact me – nathan@AfricanHRC.org or donate to www.AfricanHRC.org/donate.
There are millions of migrants and refugees around the world. Displacement of human beings is at an all time high.The most marginalized among all refugees are LGBTI refugees seeking safety and a resettlement process in countries which continue the persecution they had escaped from. LGBTI people are fleeing homophobic violence and the criminalization of their … More For LGBTI People Kakuma Camp is a Desperate Nightmare
BY MELANIE NATHAN
Follow me on Twitter – @MelanieNathan1