African HRC and other advocates have been requesting UNHCR plan for the safe protection and humane living conditions for LGBTQ refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp for several years, with only slight ad hoc and ultimately ineffective results. The harsh conditions and insecurities led to a protest this week and an attack by Kenyan police on the refugees, mostly Ugandan nationals. We reported that attack in the words of the refugees HERE.
At African HRC have been communicating directly with the refugees and reaching out to UNHCR for comment and assistance. Now finally there is the hope for change and the global LGBT community, including the United States, MUST do its part to ensure a positive outcome for all.
UNHCR has provided the following statement:
“On 11 December 2018, around 22 LGBTI refugees and asylum-seekers in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya staged a demonstration. The demonstration was against acts of discrimination including by other refugees, and by members of the Kenyan host community. Some violence ensued. The Kenyan Police stationed inside the UNHCR compound intervened. The police went outside the UNHCR compound and dispersed the youth. LGBTI refugees were allowed into the UNHCR compound for their safety and the Kenyan Police called for reinforcement that arrived later to facilitate the transportation of those injured to the medical facilities. Some refugees suffered from soft tissue injuries with no internal bleeding. Two required suturing. The refugees were discharged the same day after being given the necessary medical treatment.
UNHCR condemns the violence perpetrated against these refugees and asylum-seekers, and reiterates that every individual has a fundamental human right to seek asylum and enjoy international protection. We welcome the efforts of the Kenyan Police Force in quelling the disturbance, and urge the relevant authorities in Kenya to take all necessary steps to ensure the physical safety of all refugees and asylum-seekers, including LGBT ones henceforth.
UNHCR continues to work with the Refugee Affairs Secretariat of the Government of Kenya to ensure that LGBTI refugees and asylum-seekers are safe and protected. The physical safety and security of refugees and asylum-seekers in Kenya is the responsibility of the Kenyan authorities. UNHCR calls on Kenyan authorities to take action to prevent future instances of violence from being committed.
While UNHCR has undertaken great effort together with the Kenyan Government and partners, the Kakuma context does not provide a safe environment for LGBTI refugees and asylum-seekers. UNHCR continues to call on the international community to offer increased places for resettlement, and to accept the urgent and emergency resettlement of LGBTI refugees at highest risk.
UNHCR believes that the LGBTI refugees who were involved in this incident would be better protected outside Kakuma. The necessary measures have been taken to facilitate their removal from Kakuma. Around 21 are currently being moved. The number was decided due to capacity in Nairobi to accommodate on an urgent basis. More refugees will be relocated in the coming weeks.”
African HRC 's Melanie Nathan comments as follows:
While we are grateful UNHCR has taken this action, we must note that have been advocating to UNHCR and warning of the danger for several years. It is most unfortunate that it took violence of this nature, where over 30 people were attacked, for UNHCR to take action – and I wonder if not for our outcry, with many thanks to the courageous refugees reaching out to activists and advocates and speaking out for themselves, if anything would have happened to change this. Finally UNHCR is offering protection in Nairobi . However UNHCR cannot pay lip service to this serious situation. UNHCR must see this through to a safe house where the refugees are not expected to walk the streets of Nairobi begging and seeking rent and food money.
UNHCR must make amends for its part in allowing this happen. They have an onerous duty to see the protection through to the fullest extent possible – they must form partnerships or whatever it takes to provide adequate housing and food. UNHCR must also work to rectify the way in which some of their own staff have been treating LGBTQI refugees – at this time they are steeped in accusations of homophobia.
With that said, UNHR is absolutely right: The international community must come forward to assist in making sure we are able to resettle these LGBT refugees. While resettlement is no guarantee, it ought to be for LGBTQI people – because the very countries that could host them on the continent, such as Kenya, continue to criminalize and brutalize them. There is no safe place unless resettled abroad. For LGBTQI people the host countries are hostile hosts. The very persecution which refugees have escaped form their home countries continues in the country that is supposed to host safety and solution.
The United States plays a great part in this effort to resettle LGBTQI refugees. Since Trump came into office the refugee numbers have been decreased and the resettlement process has slowed down to a virtual standstill. The Trump refugee policy has had a dangerous impact on LGBTQ refugee in Africa. We cannot ignore or shirk our responsibility, but unfortunately under the leadership of the Trump administration the pipeline to America for LGBTQI, the most marginalized of all refugees, is now impacting to a point where lives are endangered. The United States Embassy in Kenya and RSC Africa must work toward prioritizing people who in effect are not even safe in the host country.
Last night I sent a letter to the Ambassador of the United States in Kenya reporting on the attack in Kakuma. I pledge to continue the outreach in the United States, including reaching out to our Senators and State department, through my work with African HRC. However I am also asking my American LGBTQ community to help us in any way possible to keep this fight going – especially with donations to www.AfricanHRC.org/donate and to keep your eyes open to share what we are doing on social media. We the global LGBTQ family are the ONLY family these refugees have and we must provide our support in an effective and meaningful way.
1. UNHCR will need partnerships and organizations coming forward to specifically offer funding for safe shelter, food, transport and medicine for LGBTQ refugees in Nairobi. Often urban refugees are left to walk the streets, forced into sex work, even while under UNHCR care, in order to survive. This only exacerbates the danger of being in a host country that is hostile to LGBTQI people, further criminalizing them. It is critical that any funding is earmarked for LGBTQ resources and safe shelter in Nairobi.
2. African HRC needs urgent funding to continue to provide ad hoc country conditions reports, advocacy and direct humanitarian assistance. www.AFRICANHRC.org/donate We need immediate operational funds to cover expenses. We do not take salaries at this time. We are asking all fellow organizations to consider small grants or contributions so we can continue this work. We also seek the assistance of development volunteers.
3. We are seeking to form partnerships in advocacy to strategize and impact U.S. policy – to start re-opening the pipeline for LGBTQ refugees to be resettled, mitigating the effect of Trump refugee policy and quotas on LGBTQ refugees.