The worsening plight of LGBT refugees in Kenya

The situation is worsening for LGBT Ugandan refugees in Kenya, as reported by Erasing 76 Crimes on May 11:

Kenya arrests LGBTI refugees, sends them into danger

Response to this humanitarian crisis has fallen largely to a network of concerned activists around the globe. One such is Richard de Luchi, a British citizen living in Lisbon, who wrote the following this morning:

Good morning from me in Lisbon,

I understand that the 18 lgbtiq who were arrested in Nairobi last week have now been taken into custody by the Kenya police at the camp. I am informed that this was following protests by these persons of concern at conditions and treatment.

Do we need to be reminded that these people are refugees, not criminals, and that they should be under the protective care of UNHCR. I have been told that once in police custody, a person has no connection with the outside world via mobile phone. I am ignorant of the legal process regarding arrest and detainment in Kenya, but trust that these persons of concern are accessible by humanitarian organisations. If not, then something is seriously wrong, especially since one of these persons was badly beaten by police last week: see the attached photograph. Who knows now how many more have received the same brutal, unchecked treatment.

The purpose of this email, apart from registering my protest at the whole turn of events, is to urge anyone and everyone to use their influence or power of words to get these 18 individuals out of Kakuma and into some form of safe housing where their resettlement processes may be dealt with in a calm and civilised manner. The image of Kenya before the world is not a good one, and I feel that it is high time that the country live up to international standards of treatment of citizens both national and those who are there simply because of UNHCR.

There but for the grace of God go I is a saying that should be quoted more often in a world where the human race is in danger of losing its capacity for compassion.

Once again, pressure at the highest level in government and diplomacy is called for.

With all good wishes,
Richard de Luchi

Mr. de Luchi wrote a follow-up a few hours later:

De: Richard de Luchi
Enviado: quinta-feira, 25 de maio de 2017 12:52
Para: contactus@amnesty.org
Assunto: LGBTIQ Refugee Situation in Kenya

Good afternoon,

I am writing to you about the fast deteriorating situation regarding LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya.

For some months now I have been in contact with individual persons of concern and they all report the same problems with their situation in the country. The refugees are for the most part Ugandans, but also from neighbouring countries with equally draconian laws and attitudes towards gay people. May I assume that you are familiar with the level of danger and insecurity that gay people suffer across the African continent. If you require answers to questions, then either I or one of my contacts in kenya should be able to answer them.

All my contacts tell of:

  1. Homophobia in all sections of Kenyan society, and at UNHCR HQ in Nairobi.
  2. Lack of funding, largely due to supension of monthly stipends from UNHCR and various organisations with connections to UNHCR
  3. Lengthy periods of waiting, wither to be called to interview to start the resettlement process, or between the interviews that lead up to being accepted for resettlement. Some persons of concern have been in Kenya fro 3 years or more, when the normal processing period on average is, I understand, between 18 months and 2 years.
  4. The difficulty, or even impossibility, of finding work as Kenyan labour laws are not sympathetic to aliens working, and holders of refugee ID cards are particularly singled out for discimination.
  5. The apparent indifference on the part of officials at UNHCR, for reasons best known to themselves, to the processing of persons of concern for resettlement.
  6. The fact that resettlement processing has been taken over by the Government of Kenya, which means that, thanks to the homophobic laws in that country, gay people are, ipso facto, criminals rather than asylum seekers or refugees entitled to UNHCR protection.
  7. Problems in housing: eviction by landlords thanks to denunciation by homophobic neighbours. This often results in homelessness with the attendant dangers of mob violence and, as happened last week, arrest and brutality by the police.
  8. The situation at the Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya, where 18 persons of concern were taken last week and have been suffering police brutality, as well as homophobia from other camp residents. The latest episode here is the arrest of LGBTIQ protesting the appalling conditions in the camp. The question is, why are they there in the first place. My contacts speak of the initial arrest being made with the collusion of UNHCR.
  9. Being prevented from entering UNHCR HQ at Westlands in Nairobi to attend interviews, even when in the possession of legal documentation.
  10. The lack of respect being granted to them as human beings, with some notable exceptions at UNHCR.

I should be personally most grateful if you could give this email your most serious attention. The current situation in Kenya is dire, and is bound to get worse since the country is coming up to elections. Somehow Kenya has to be made to realise that its policies are inimical to the world of the 21st century as we would like to see it. I am preaching to the converted, so shall leave it there.

Yours sincerely,
Richard de Luchi
British citizen, supporter of Amnesty International, living in Lisbon, Portugal

I (Rick Rosendall in Washington, D.C.) am in contact with two gay Ugandan refugees in Kenya, who were not among the 18 sent to Kakuma. They are in fear and are hopeful that increased international attention will help. You can use this contact info for the American ambassador to urge him to weigh in with the Kenyan government and UNHCR on behalf of the refugees:

Ambassador Robert F. Godec
(Click on name to send email)
U.S. Embassy Nairobi
Phone: 254 20 363-6000
Fax: 254 20 363-6157

Many individuals raising our voices can grow into a chorus. The least we can do is try. Silence equals death.

4 Comments

  1. Do you honestly think that the US embassy under gay hating admin of Trump and Pence cares? Also it would help if the 18 people who were arrested and detained and then taken to Kakuma actually register and follow the rules. They refused. They want to go back to Nairobi. But that will only land back in trouble with no money to house and feed them. UNHCR is under no obligation to house people in urban areas, where its against the Kenyan Law. That creates a catch 22 situation. Yes kakuma conditions are deplorable- for all straight or gay. Food is short in the camp. Do you see the LGBT global community doing anything to help when we put up fundraisers? Here is a big part of the problem: Until refugees follow the basic rules, UNHCR is not under an obligation to protect them. So to call out UNHCR when they are underfunded and when LGBT refugees refuse to follow rules is not helpful. What needs to happen is more funding for a separate safe place within the camp for LGBT people. It is an impossible situation for LGBT people to go to Nairobi where the Kenyan government does not want to see any urban refugees whether straight or gay. Because gays are not safe in the camp its best that special arrangements be made within the camp scenarios. Its all about funding and following the rules. Many LGBT want to be treated differently to the straight refugees . Gays have been waiting under 3 years to be resettled. Straights wait up to 10 years or more in the camp. So that said – not following rules just means more arrests. Going back to Nairobi just means more inability to survive and the likelihood to get involved in sex work. My advice: Stay in the camp, register and work hard in unity with all gays in camp to improve conditions. While in camp form strong unified advocacy forces to get UNHCR to work with you. In this scenario global activists will help to raise money for more food and better conditions.

    1. Melanie, I passed your comments along to my friends in Kenya. The American ambassador is actually a holdover from Obama, not that that would make much difference at this point given the new administration’s hobbling of diplomacy. I honestly do not know what to do. I am not good at raising money. But I figured it couldn’t hurt to try something to raise more voices.

    2. Melania Nathan, do you really work with this organization http://www.africanhrc.org/about? Doesn’t seem like you know much about being a refugee + LGBT.
      I run an NGO in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, and I can give you some perspective.

      In Kenya, it is LEGAL for a refugee to stay in a refugee camp (Kakuma or Daadab) or in urban areas Nairobi (so far the most urban refugees are legally registered in Nairobi and Nakuru, maybe a couple more cities). Under the UNHCR legal and humanitarian mandate, refugees living in Nairobi (urban refugees) are supposed to take care of themselves, but of course UNHCR has the obligation to help these urban refugees where they are not able to help themselves (this is why UNHCR funds so many NGOs to support urban refugees in food, education, medical care, etc). The assistance is not an offer from UNHCR to urban refugees, it’s an obligation and a right to the urban refugees.
      It is also legal for a refugee originally registered in a refugee camp to transfer their case to an urban area if they feel their safety is at threat in the refugee camp, and UNHCR facilitates such cases (same happens for urban refugees who want to move to camps for safety reasons). Again, UNHCR is not doing the refugees any favor helping them to settle in Nairobi, refugees have the right to move. Of course when moving from Kakuma to Nairobi, a refugee needs to obtain the 2-week or so movement pass so that they are not detained on the way. Once in Nairobi, they just need to present themselves to the UNHCR office to explain the threat in the camp and why they feel they want to stay in Nairobi. Where the refugees have no basic means to survive in Nairobi, and UNHCR always provides this support (including shelter, food, etc), with exceptions of cases where UNHCR feels the refugees aren’t in immediate danger. LGBT refugees are in this immediate danger.

      Speaking specifically about the LGBT refugee community, these have a double vulnerability (being LBGT in Kenya + being refugees), and it is within UNHCR’s interest to do its level best to help them, if possible move them all to urban areas where they won’t get as much discrimination as in the refugee camp. In Kakuma, LGBT are congested in a separate community of their own for claim of their safety, and this in my opinion even creates a bigger threat to their lives. And of course there’s no better alternative.
      Regarding resettlement and assistance, we have countries that have invested a lot of funds to help the LGBT, including resettlement. Just like other straight refugees, LBGT have an additional vulnerability than just being a refugees, and UNHCR always prioritize people who have an additional vulnerability on their list for resettlement, who normally stay in the camp for 3-4 years and are supported to move to a third country.

      I hope this gives you a good perspective and can help you do a better job with the LBGT.

  2. As a victim who has seen what has happened to my friends both in urban centers and those one’s brought back from the camp to urban centers in order to save their lives ,I have nothing to talk about the camp.i remember during indge the former senior protection officer at kakuma refugee camp transferring the six LGBTIQ refugees back to urban centers to save their lives from the homophobia
    ( Homophobic refugees) who are very many in the camp compared to a few LGBTIQ. It’s not a bout protecting the organization image but the truth has to be said .

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