Solutions Awaited from UNHCR
On December 21, 2019 in the early hours of the morning, over 40 plus LGBTI refugees were attacked in Kakuma Camp, Kenya. They fled and remain trapped at the UNHCR Reception Center gate at Kakuma refugee Camp, without safe access to food or water at this time. They have no papers to move around in the country, an impossibility given they are foreigners and Kenya is experiencing terrorist attacks at this time, making all foreigners without papers suspicious. These refugees are stuck. If they get arrested they are criminalized for being homosexual or lesbian. They had been assigned shelter in the camp by UNHCR so as to to “integrate” them into the camp community. However on the very first night there they were attacked with sticks and fists and threatened with knives and pangas, for being LGBTI, with UNHCR now denying they were targeted as such and that the attack was mere petty vandalism and theft as motive. We have statements to prove that this assessment is naive at its best and a lie at its worst.
In my capacity as director of African Human Rights Coalition, I communicated with UNHCR after the attack, noting that African HRC had been feeding the refugees and our concern for their ongoing safety and need for security and protection related solutions. I also noted my dismay that the LGBTI refugees had been placed among a known homophobic community, despite lessons from the past. The very type of heterosexual community the refugees had sought exile to escape from are the ones UNHCR is seeking to integrate. This made no sense.
UNHCR responded to my query as follows:
“The group had been allocated shelters in different parts of the camp to allow for them to better integrate in the community. While there was indeed reported vandalism in the camp around the Christmas season, it is understood that the attacks were perpetrated by common criminals and were not targeted at any particular individuals. Acts of theft and vandalism and other forms of petty criminality are unfortunately common in Kakuma and are addressed by the law enforcement authorities as and when reported. We have not observed a pattern of targeted criminal attacks.” (Excerpt Email received Jan 04, 2020- to Melanie Nathan of African HRC by UNHCR KENYA)
This serves as a stunning admission by UNHCR. It notes that the LGBTI refugees were purposely placed in and among the Sudanese and Turkana community. And yet UNHCR is fully aware that in December 2018, a whole year ago, those communities targeted and attacked LGBTI refugees, resulting in UHCR relocating them to Nairobi for safety. They were sent to a safe house only to be evicted by the Kenyan government and sent back to kakuma. (My article at that time https://oblogdee.blog/2018/12/11/lgbt-refugee-peaceful-protest-turns-violent-at-unhcr-compound-in-kenya/) and a year later this past month, https://oblogdee.blog/2019/12/26/kenya-proves-it-an-no-longer-host-lgbti-refugees-due-to-escalating-violence/ )
This is a shocking denial of the truth by UNHCR. The truth being that this was indeed a targeted attack, evidenced by the statements African Human Rights Coalition obtained from the refugees who were attacked, (which I have posted here.) And what is even more disconcerting is that 12 days have gone by and UNHCR has not yet interviewed a single one of the LGBTI refugees caught up in the attack, yet made the assessment that this was NOT a targeted attack.
When we ate African HRC interviewed the refugees, who have been trapped at the UNHCR Reception Center Gates, denied water by G4S guards, through UNHCR rules and instruction, we saw a pattern in responses to our questions, making it clear the in fact the refugees were targeted as being LGBTQI, and UNHCR is 100% incorrect in their assessment.
SEE THE STATEMENTS BY THOSE ATTACKED – who are terrified to return to these shelters as recommended by UNHCR: HERE: http://www.africanhrc.org/single-post/2020/01/05/LGBTI-Refugee-Statements-to-African-HRC-on-XMAS-Attacks-at-Kakuma
At this time UNHCR is asking the LGBTQI refugees to return to the exact same places where they were attacked, and here is an excerpt from their email to me, where they are in effect using the denial of water a s a mechanism to force the LGBTQI refugees to rerun to the place where they were attacked:
“The group camping at the gate of the centre has therefore been urged to return to the shelters that had been allocated to them in the camp, and reminded that should they face any specific incidents as individuals, they must immediately report them through established channels, so that appropriate action can be taken.
On the specific issue that the group has raised related to water: established reception centre/security management procedures do not allow for the passing of any items over the fence. The jerry cans have been returned to the group, on the understanding that water points are available in the camps and are situated close to their allocated shelters.” (Excerpt Email received Jan 04, 2020- to Melanie Nathan of African HRC by UNHCR KENYA)
At the time of writing this, the LGBTI refugees who were attacked had reported to police, and remain terrified and without solution in the face of escalating attacks against them and other lGBTI refugees who remain within the Reception Center itself with nowhere to go. Those inside the reception Center are too fearful to enter communities at the camp. Their fear has proven valid, evidenced by the attack on those who are now trapped at the gate.
In the email to me, UNHCR asserts that the attacked group went voluntarily to the assigned shelters. However what UNHCR fails to note is that those refugees had zero other options available to them and their so called voluntary actions are tantamount to coerced through the fact that no other solutions are available to them.
Here is that conversation via email between UNHCR and me:
UNHCR email Jan 04, 20120: “A group of about 35 individuals has camped at the entrance of the Kakuma Reception Centre in recent days, having tried to return to the centre after voluntarily relocating to the community in Kakuma.”
Melanie Nathan African HRC response: The initial number at the outside gate was 47 and then we provided food to 50…..UNHCR assertion that they had voluntarily relocated to community in Kakuma is not authentic in the sense that they were given no other choices – no options. Hence they were compelled to join the Kakuma community in your attempt at integration. This is evidenced by the fact that once again, despite safety issues, UNHCR and Kenyan government is giving them no choice as can be seen in the very conclusion of this letter.
This is evident there are no other places to go at all, except back to home countries, which is not a viable option, and there are no travel permits or documentation to travel anywhere or reside anywhere else in Kenya. So the truth is this was NOT voluntary. It was without options!
They relied upon officials’ reassurances that they were being to a safe zone and trusting that they would be safe.
In the same EMAIL I implored upon UNHCR to come up with a solution for ALL LGBTI refugees whether in camp, at Reception Center or trapped at gate, noting an escalation in the violence against LGBTI refugees, as we speak, as follows:
Excerpt: Melanie Nathan’s EMAIL to UNHCR,In Conclusion:
Please can we talk about a different plan.
We need a specific designated protection area, with non-homophobic trained guards and safety mechanisms, with an ability for POC/refugees who are LGBTI to sustain themselves, fetch food and water without ridicule and taunting, a place and process that does not endanger them, away from community. For this to happen – you must first be able to admit the homophobia and help us work to mitigate this and the logistical problems it creates.
Please let us work together to make this happen. Please do not ask us to participate in sending LGBTQI POC/refugees back into untenable dangerous circumstances. The LGBTQI refugees believe they are purposely being set up for attack and physical harm to comport with Kenyan officials telling them they should go back to their home countries. We want to be able to show LGBTQI refugees that UNHCR and Kenya are working to make this situation sustainable. If this is not possible we must come up with other solutions such as bussing LGBTQI to non-hostile host protection, perhaps in Botswana, pending asylum or resettlement.
African Human Rights Coalition
And the proof that this is now a crisis and in urgent need of viable solution are the escalating tensions between LGBTI refugees and Sudanese and Turkana. LGBTI individuals are continuing to be attacked, with 2 seriously injured this morning. Here is a statement delivered to African HRC by a Ugandan refugee who was attacked this morning:
I am a Ugandan refugee seeking asylum in Kenya and currently living at kakuma camp reception centre. I have lived here for about 2months.
I will try to keep this precise and concise.
Today I left the Kakuma camp reception centre with permission from the G4S security personnel who registered me in the entry and exit register at the gate. I left with the company of a friend a one Abdul Luyombya. This was at about 9am, we walked to the trading centre and handed over our phones at the charging shop for battery charging. After that we bought afew supplies from the next shop and returned to the reception centre. Upon return, the G4S security personnel told us to keep our gate passes since we had to return to the trading centre to pickup our phones later and We obliged.
Later at about 3:30pm we went back to the trading centre and the G4S security personnel permited us through. Upon reaching the charging shop, our phones had not fully charged so the attendant told us to wait for about 30mins and pick them up when they are fully charged. At this point we opted to take a walk around the trading centre as the 30minutes expire. We walked towards the school near the police station and found a bunch of Sudanese refugees playing cards near a small bush. They noticed us and spoke in their language and we noticed them too but it was no big deal as we carried on and spoke our native language (Luganda) to each other. After afew minutes we decided the 30minutes are almost over and decided to walk back to the shop.
As we walked back to the trading centre, to my surprise, the Sudanese people we had passed by initially, they were trying to surround us on the way. I didn’t notice their intentions at first but then I realised when we are almost surrounded and by natural instincts we decided to run and yell out for help. They had broken branches from the thorny shrubs around the area. They swarmed and attacked us in full swing and started pulling our clothes off. That’s when I realised they want to undress us, we fought and exchanged blows as they ripped my vest off and it covered my head and they walloped my bare back with thorny lashes. I felt a big stick / club pudding on my back and my ribs on the right.
They were shouting swahili words some of which I could understand, but several slaps and punches were hitting my face. They kept accusing us and relating to the incident on the 31st of December, 2019 where a one XXXXXXXX was attacked in the trading centre and we rushed in to save him from the angry mob. And that we were “Shogas”.[Swahili for Fagots] They wanted to cut off my private parts and pulled my pants off and tore them almost apart. I was half naked, only in my underwear. We wrestled for a while and they beat us up for quite a while until people in the neighbouring area started running towards the scene and they fled. I even had a chance to count them, they were 9 individuals. I know one of them by face because I have seen him before in the trading centre. I am quite certain that they were Sudanese because they were not wearing Turkana attire and they looked like Sudanese, even their language was Sudanese and Swahili.
To cut the story short, the people who came to our rescue helped us and i managed to wear and put on my clothes. My vest was torn and my pants were torn. I was wearing a white vest because it was scorching hot, the sun here is too hot. My face was bruised and I had cuts on my head, face, arms and my back too. My ribs feel so painful and my right knee is sore and hurt. I walked with my colleague Abdul to the police station and we reported our case. Then walked to the reception centre and the G4S security personnel forced me to take pictures of me. I did not understand why but I obliged and they took the pictures of me in every angle they wanted. The ambulance came and took me to clinic 7.
At clinic 7 it was so pointless. I got there and took an injection to the butt. Then I was given ampiclox and Paracetamol. I was told to walk back on foot to the reception centre that because the ambulance does not return patients to where they came from. But the fact that I spoke to my colleagues who accompanied me in Luganda language, the health worker knew that se are LGBTIQ. We literally heard him say to his counterparts that we are shogas. Anyway I think that it explains why the health worker was so cold and he barely spoke to us. He walked away and vanished. Its actually the security personnel who explained that the ambulance will not come for us So I walked back to reception centre. And upon reaching the reception centre, G4S security personnel were also being such a pain. They refused to open for me and my colleagues, we waited it out for a while, it took like half an hour but eventually they opened and we came in.
Tomorrow I await to go to a private clinic and find myself some sensible medical attention.
May the Lord save us all.
You may ask why I use the word “TRAPPED”? –
1. The LGBTQI refugees have escaped persecution in their home countries and are seeking protection through asylum/resettlement to safe non criminalizing countries – they cannot return home – where they may be beaten, tortured, or killed;
2. They are not permitted to travel in Kenya and if picked up without travel permissions or appropriate documents could be arrested and jailed. For LGBTQI people Kenya is a particularly hellish place to be in jail if you are gay, lesbian or transgender
3. The ONLY place they have been assigned is the shelter among community in Kakuma, where they were attacked on the 21st Dec and are now being told to go back. This is not an option.
THEY ARE TRAPPED!
UNHCR’s denial that this was a homophobic attack serves the narrative that they were justified sending gays into the ‘lions den’ to integrate.’ Like I told them in my email – its like sending chickens into the crocodile pond. They sent LGBTQI into a known danger zone ignorantly (at best) or maliciously (at worst) – noting that “integrating” LGBTQI among homophobic Sudanese and Turkana could do anything else but result in violence and threats of death, all exacerbating the trauma of those escaping homophobia persecution.
In conclusion, We hope that when UNHCR offices reopen tomorrow a solution comes to light and that Dr. Fillipo Grandi, the High Commissioner of UNHCR as well as UN Rapporteur Victor Madrigal step in to help with solutions. African HRC is a trusted source to negotiate a deal between UNHCR and the refugees and we stand at the ready to broker any arrangement where the refugees will feel safe and protected. That cannot include being sent back among Sudanese and Turkana in Kakuma Camp.
What the LGBTQI refugee need on an urgent and longer term basis:
- Separate and safe protection area designated LGBTQI only
- New mosquito nets, bedding, utensils
- Hygienic showers and latrine amenities
- Proper Shelter
- Safe passage to access food and water and medicine
- Improved hospital facilities
- Proper food rations
- Sustainable programs/stipends for survival
- Security at area
- Emergency funding for arrest bails, private hospitals
- Education of all contractors, G4S, UNHCR staffers, Kenyan Officials to combat homophobia
- Expedited resettlement process because sexuality is criminalized
- Western countries to step up and reopen pipelines for speedy process to resettlement
- USA to improve staffing at RSC Africa and reopen numbers for more refugees with priority to lGBTI
- Canada to speed up LGBTI refugee resettlement
INTERESTED PRESS may request copies of communications at nathan@AfricanHRC.org
DONATIONS will be greatly appreciated at http://www.AfricanHRC.org/donate (tax deductible)
Melanie Nathan: My e-mail – email@example.com
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Refugee / Asylum Advocacy: www.africanHRC.org
This Reporting is with thanks to the investigative work of LGBTQI leadership on the ground in Kakuma who we shall not name for their own safety as well as Mark Cohen, Director of Humanitarian affairs for African HRC.
NOTE: Many thanks to the AFRICAN HRC directors and volunteers have spent their entire XMAS and New Year Holiday period working on this emergency.
@UN.Geneva #KAKUMA #Refugees