Refugee Flag Kenya posted on Facebook early Monday morning, April 13, accompanied by awful photos and a video of a young man hanging from a tree:
ERNEST MWIRU, One of the LGBTI refugees who were relocated by the UNHCR from Kakuma Refugee Camp in 2018 has committed suicide by hanging himself at the UNHCR compound tree.
This happened after he had been beaten by UNHCR security at the scene where he had gone to request for assistance in terms of food and accommodation following the withdrawal of the financial assistance he and many of his colleagues from Kakuma had been getting from the UNHCR for sustanance. They were abandoned by the UNHCR even when COVID 19 came in without food or accommodation.
The body is still hanging up the tree. Details will be communicated later.
Richard de Luchi, a British man who is part of a small group of people from several countries advocating for LGBT refugees in Kenya, wrote to UN High Commissioner for Refugees Dr. Filippo Grandi in Geneva, copying UNHCR staff in Nairobi along with several activists and journalists:
Dear Dr. Grandi,
I have just received news of the suicide by hanging of a refugee. I am informed that this was from a tree outside UNHCR premises in Nairobi and was the direct result of maltreatment by security guards employed by UNHCR.
I assume you have also been informed of this, and I trust that this will move the agency to take more care of those who plead for help. One of the constant complaints levelled at UNHCR is the indifference to suffering of LGBTI refugees and the acceptance of grossly unprofessional behaviour of outsourced staff such as security guards, who give vent to their homophobia with impunity. I will refrain from further speculation, as all I have been told is that this [Person of Concern], by name ANESTE Mweru … hanged himself following maltreatment.
The fact that there is a world pandemic raging cannot be used as an excuse to reduce care and protection of refugees. Your agency has pledged continued support for refugees, and this must include LGBTI. Anyone working for UNHCR who feels unable to honour the mission and mandate has the option to leave the agency’s employ. The example of the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, and other health services around the world, working tirelessly and with impartiality to save lives, should be taken as an example to follow.
Any one death is tragic; we are in danger of becoming indifferent to this as the numbers rise, and occasionally fall, around the world. A suicide such as this one is a terrible indictment on the failure of UNHCR to live up to its calling, one that your Secretary General, Eng. Antonio Guterres, frequently reminds the world that the United Nations is committed to.
Kindly ensure that your staff in Kenya, in Nairobi and the various refugee camps situated in the country are reminded of their high calling. There is such a thing as a moral compass, and this is not flexible, nor to be ignored on a whim.
I added my thoughts backing up Mr. de Luchi:
Dear Dr. Grandi,
I wish to echo the concerns of Richard de Luchi. I awoke this morning to pictures of the man, Aneste, hanging from a tree outside the UNHCR’s Westlands office, and to messages from several distraught refugees. I have been offering them words of comfort. But we need more than prayers. We need action and strength by the people of your organization in Kenya, driven by decency and compassion. I am refraining from sending you one of the awful pictures. It is like one of the photos of lynchings from the last century in my country, a reminder of shame and horror and cruelty and indifference and inhumanity. That in this case it was a suicide driven by despair hardly makes it any better.
Aneste has joined his ancestors. Please remember your own, and the values you have expressed, and do something about the suffering of the LGBTI refugees languishing amid hate and violence in Kenya. They deserve so much better.
Later, after Aneste’s body had been taken down, I followed up, attaching the photo atop this post:
Dear Dr. Grandi,
This photo of poor Aneste I can bear to share with you. It was sent to me by another of the refugees, who are reeling from this horrible event. I could not bear to send a picture of him hanging.
How could a beautiful young man with so much of life ahead have felt such despair as to take his own life? He had gone to UNHCR for assistance, and all he got was abuse.
For humanity’s sake, do something about the systemic problems that led to this tragedy. If you won’t, at least have the decency to quit your job. I am mourning today for someone I never knew. He was in your agency’s charge.
A few hours later, UNHCR’s Refugee Assistance Help Line for Kenya sent us (including the activists and journalists who were copied on these messages) an email titled “Tragic death of Aneste Mweru”:
Thank you to all of you who have written to us to express your concern in connection with the tragedy which unfolded near our office in Nairobi this morning.
UNHCR is deeply saddened to confirm the death today of Ugandan national Aneste Mweru, age 27. Our thoughts and profound condolences are with all of those who knew and loved Aneste.
The Kenyan police have initiated an investigation into the events leading to this tragic incident. We will closely follow this ongoing police investigation and will provide further information as it becomes available.
Mr Mweru sought asylum in Kenya in January 2017, and his refugee status was recognised by Kenyan authorities in March 2019.
In this moment of terrible sorrow, we ask all who are aware of this tragic event, wherever you may be in the world, to respect the basic dignity of the deceased, and those who survive him, by desisting from circulating pictures taken at the scene of his death today, as well as any speculative, unconfirmed information which may further exacerbate existing tensions. This is a particularly important request to you in the present context in Kenya, and globally.
May Aneste Mweru rest in peace.
Dear UNHCR Kenya,
With all due respect, I think you deserve to be buried in those awful photographs until and unless you do something about the awful *reality* for LGBTI refugees in Kenya, including pushing back against the homophobic and transphobic Kenyan regime, and stop patronizing us.
It was those who loved Aneste who circulated the photos. Of course they are upsetting. That is the point. People’s hearts are broken. People are frightened and anguished and battling their own despair. It would be lovely if just once you would communicate without patronizing us and without pretending that it is the refugees or those of us helping them who are in the wrong. Your deflection tactics cannot be accepted. Aneste hanged himself OUTSIDE YOUR OFFICES. Please stop treating us like fools.
You have blood on your hands, but I suppose you will make my undiplomatic tone the problem instead. Seriously? How many more displaced LGBTI people must die before you will stop playing these games?
Please, for God’s sake, change. Help these beleaguered people.
During the day, a Reuters reporter who had been copied on the emails wrote to me asking me for referrals to witnesses. I passed along her request to a few of the refugees who had texted me about Aneste’s tragic death. I don’t think this is the last we will hear of this. It is not just about one young man’s death, as terrible and heartbreaking as that is. It reflects a pattern of policies and behaviors by UNHCR in Kenya which must be addressed to prevent further tragedies.