Two days ago a supposed safe house sheltering transgender refugees near Nairobi Kenya (actual place purposely not mentioned for security reasons) was raided by the Kenyan police after complaints by local residents (host community) asserting that it was ‘inhabited by transgender people who were apparently in danger of corrupting the morals of the neighborhood’s husbands and children.’ This resulted in multiple arrests, and the usual extortion of so called “bail”, together with the threats of torture, abject fear and public humiliation of the trans refugees who were subjected to the outrageous failed protection. Those arrested and released have nowhere to go! Many LGBTI refugees remain on the streets as a result of this and other similar hostilities.
Kenya has become one of the only options available to East Africa’s LGBTQI community seeking protection and UNHCR resettlement to safe countries. And this is proving to be hardly a solution! The LGBTQI people are fleeing criminalizing laws, state approved homophobia and ongoing persecution of LGBTI communities on the Continent, which includes evictions, expulsions, banishment, torture, detentions, kidnappings, blackmail, extortion, so called mob justice, so called corrective rape, reparative therapies, assaults, sexual violence and even murder. At this time most the LGBTI refugees in Kenya are from Uganda, and also include those from Burundi, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and other countries.
Unfortunately UNHCR is under-funded and impacted by the fact that the host country, Kenya, in fact clearly a ‘hostile host’, not only fails to properly protect the refugees as required by International treatise and Constitution, but also participates in government supported persecution of LGBTQI refugees.
While solutions are being sought, we the world and especially global LGBTI communities in safer countries are not nearly doing enough to recognize the problem and demand change. The situation for LGBTI refugees in African countries and especially Kenya is dire. Those seeking protection ought to be safe as refugees in host countries. Instead they are subject to hostile host governments which continue to criminalize LGBTI people and who share the very anti-gay sentiment of the persecuting countries which they fled. In addition the LGBTI refugees face the antagonistic straight refugees who see homosexuality as satanic and an abomination. This is an explosive set up which makes UNHCR’s job near impossible. Innovative solutions and funding must be sought.
UNHCR has worked hard to deal with the problem and has engaged local hosts to improve the situation, yet this is fraught with a complexity that requires much more work on the part of NGO’s, governments, and the UN.
America is a beast in this room! We are well able to engage – yet have retreated with the failed leadership of the Trump administration which has made this situation much worse. Instead of increasing the numbers of the refugees we can resettle, we have slashed those numbers by dramatic amounts. America has shirked its duty and turned its back on LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers, through Trump’s overt policies. While some have been resettled, the U.S. Embassy and RSA Africa agency has in effect served to clog the pipeline detrimental to the imperative need to hastily resettle the most vulnerable refugees.
All countries- Canada, Australia, the European Union, United Kingdom can do more!
I am calling on the United States Government and especially the Democratic Presidential candidates to prioritize this this as a critical issue pertinent to the global LGBTI criminalized communities. People are dying because of who they are! People are arrested because of their sexuality and gender identities. This its unacceptable.
In the meantime the Kenyan Government must stand down and reign in its hostility and ensure the protection of LGBTI refugees on its watch. UNHCR must find an urgent and immediate shelter for those impacted in this raid and others stuck without support on the street. Kakuma Camp must improve its conditions for LGBTQI refugees. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and other adept funded human rights groups must come to their immediate defense in the Kenya judicial system, demanding release and safety rather than prosecution for just being who they are!
Just this year the Kenyan Courts refused to decriminalize homosexuality. Just this year the Ugandan Government threatened to re introduce the Kill the Gays Bill. We have a lot of work to do.
The last word and that of trans persons arrested:
No agony is as bad as being arrested by the Kenyan police when you are trans and a foreigner (refugee). I have been going through the worst moments of my life and trying so hard to heal. Now my sisters and brothers at have been arrested including our ED and all the rest at the house. Why? Because the police feels they are practicing a cult ( homosexuality). . I mean for how long are we going to face such harsh situations ? Can’t we be left alone to be us for a minute? .
I know its harsh inside that police cell, but i am equally confused…. , please be strong for us. I pray you come out without any permanent harm that will haunt you for a life time because our police is fond of doing so to us. Just know we are all grieved right now and looking for a solution together.
I spent a night in prison with my fellow members along our ED. One of our members was picked on by the police on the way to home and threatened her imprisonment as a trans in a such a trans phobic atmosphere people on the road shouting at her as the police continued tormenting her why are you behaving like a woman and you are a man …
When they reached the house they found our living area of course painted and with our portraits most of them we are dressed in our feminine wear dresses heels and lipstick..
Going through our documents and files they say you are promoting homosexuality in our country..
Slapped,abused,laughed at and sexually harassed for the whole night ..In the police’s eyes we are a threat there hetro existence, it is a crime against nature to them. its not just hate its there responsibility to erase us from existence , from the system.. Why are you here ???
“Why are Ugandans here with documents of refugees yet in Uganda there is no war ??” …..
Being a Transgender Refugee and at the same time an activist is a toxic combination that always pilots our lives to danger from homophobes,transphobes,religion, tradition, politics and even the usual society we are not tolerated ,not given a chance to participate in what you would call equal existence..
I call upon any one reading this don’t encourage this hate by being silent let the world know let’s say it as it IS..
TRANSGENDERS ARE AN ENDANGERED SPECIES..
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BY MELANIE NATHAN