By Melanie Nathan, Febraury 19, 2015.
It seems like unscrupulous people may be taking advantage of LGBTI people who seek to escape their countries of origin due to arrests and persecution resulting from homophobia. Several scams seem to be happening at this time that could result in LGBT people who genuinely need to leave their countries being detrimentally impacted. (please see upadted by UNHC below)
Here are 4 warnings:-
1) Recently a gay man from Uganda contacted me with information about a man had taken money from him, offering to help him get from Uganda to Kenya and then the United Kingdom. He sent the man, in South Africa, $200 through Western Union. The man did not respond to the follow up that was promised. The man approached people via Facebook. We have his name and details.
2) I also received reports (and have sent a letter to UNHCR requesting them to substantiate) that 76 men ( some gay, some pretending to be gay) have just been denied registration/mandates from UNHCR as they had been brought to Kenya from Uganda as part of a business scheme by a third party, who in exchange for payment, guaranteed them they would be mandated by UNHCR and then resettled abroad.
Please let this serve as a warning. Not everyone will be mandated by UNHCR. If straight people keep going to Kenya pretending to be gay, it will hurt the LGBT people who really need the asylum.
Not everyone has a legitimate case for resettlement. UNHCR scrutinizes each and every case very carefully. If third parties are making guarantees of any kind or charging money for services to get asylum seekers to Kenya, suggesting they can help with UNHCR, it is most likely a fraud and if it is not a fraud – it could potentially hurt a person’s chances of being recognized as a refugee.
These are not services anyone should be charging for. This is not a general and open method to relocate to another country and is an horrendous abuse of people and the system. One has to qualify as a refugee under International law, and each case is decided individually on its own merits.
The bad news is that because of these indiscretions, many LGBTI people who really ought to qualify as refugees and who really need the asylum, may now be turned away, as they may have fallen into a grouping with those who do not have legitimate cases, but who just see this as a way to resettle abroad. 3) BLACKMAIL: Refugees who are currently pending mandate, interviews and resettlement in Kenya, have become the targets of threats and blackmail from local Kenyans and even some Ugandans. This crooked behavior has led to thefts, violence, and adds to the trauma that legitimate refugees have already experienced. The warning is for LGBTI refugees in Kenya (and of course anywhere for that matter) to be very careful what they post on social media, especially Facebook, that could give away too much personal information. This should be done between trusted friends only. Do not agree to meet up with people who you do not personally know. Facebook is not a way to “personally” know people.
4) UNHCR has warned LGBT people in Kenya: From March 2014 the security situation of all asylum seekers and refugees in the urban areas deteriorated significantly after a directive was issued by the Kenyan Government ordering all refugees to relocated to refugee camps. This resulted in widespread arrests. The Kenyan authorities were concerned about foreigners being involved in terrorism and engaged in door to door searches, resulting in several LGBTI urban refugees getting caught up in these arrests, with serious harassment, extortion, and general human rights abuses.
All LGBTI people have been advised by UNHCR to be inconspicuous and discreet as being LGBT is illegal also in Kenya. Harassment of “suspected homosexuals” occurs constantly in Kenya. Recently a large group of gay men were arrested holding a farewell party for a fellow refugee and the group, some of whom report being assaulted, had to be rescued by UNCR staff.
Just yesterday a young gay refugee, who had been receiving threats, arranged to meet a Western reporter. Because of threats he had been receiving he decided to leave his safe house disguised as a Muslim woman. Both he and the reporter were detained by police on suspicion of terrorism and eventually released after the UNHCR officials intervened. UNHCR has limited resources and such ‘rescues’ are not helpful due to the understaffed workload, according to a source. It is extremely tough for LGBT refugees to survive financially outside of the camps, while remaining discreet in urban areas and so some have had to resort to sex work, adding to the dangers. They receive a one-time amount from an international organization for initial housing expenses – but such is not ongoing support. Others have relied on ad hoc private funding from supporters abroad.
Ugandan refugees report that they have not received any funding to help them survive from the top tier local LGBTI human rights organizations in Uganda.
While survival for gay refugees remains difficult and futures remain uncertain, UNHCR is struggling with lack of resources to hasten the LGBTI cases - which need to be expedited due to the added danger unique to LGBT refugees. However this situation of lack of money and minimal resources is exacerbated when fraudulent operators start to see this vulnerable community as ripe for their schemes.
If you have experienced a fraud, please feel free to report the information it to us so we can warn pothers. Your name will be kept confidential. You may also report a case and ask us not to report it at all. Sharing the information may help prevent more fraud.
UPDATED 2/20/2015 : UNHCR PLACES TEMPORARY HOLD EMAIL from UNHCR 1: A UNHCR spokesperson in Kenya has officially confirmed:
"We can officially confirm that we have indeed received information from several reliable sources (refugees, implementing partners and LGBTI support groups) that Ugandans are now trafficked to Kenya in groups in order to be resettled to a third country.
We have therefore decided to temporarily put on hold registration and assistance for new arrivals.
We fully agree with you that there may indeed be genuine cases among the group of asylum seekers who have arrived over the past months. However, we do have a responsibility vis-a-vis the donors, resettlement countries and most of all the LGBTI refugees themselves to make sure that only genuine cases obtain protection and durable solutions. We hope you understand that we need to investigate this further before we can decide on the way forward. It may in any case be expected that as from now we will take significantly more time to assess the claims and protection needs instead of automatically expedite processing."
I expressed concern that this could negatively impact genuine LGBTI asylum seekers: And the spokesperson responded:
“We fully agree with you that there may indeed be genuine cases among the group of asylum seekers who have arrived over the past months. However, we do have a responsibility vis-a-vis the donors, resettlement countries and most of all the LGBTI refugees themselves to make sure that only genuine cases obtain protection and durable solutions. We hope you understand that we need to investigate this further before we can decide on the way forward. It may in any case be expected that as from now we will take significantly more time to assess the claims and protection needs instead of automatically expedite processing.”
I wrote this comment based on my understanding: "This is discouraging and terrifying news for new Ugandan cases. We are aware of several Ugandans who are LGBTI and who are in current danger in Uganda, unable to make a living due to outings, and without any local funding to sustain their survival in hiding. Some of these people were about to seek refuge in Kenya, but have now been impeded from their only way out. The United States Government and other countries do not provide visas to people who cannot prove they will go back to their countries of origin. There is no such thing as an asylum visa."
UPDATED 2/21: UNHCR has since clarified in an email to me that its initial email did not intend to mean that it was stopping Ugandan LGBT registrations for new arrivals, but only for large groups - and calrified as follows:-
EMAIL FROM UNHCR 2: "We have temporarily put on hold registration of large groups of Ugandan asylum seekers who claim to have an LGBTI profile. Ugandan LGBTI refugees on the contrary are persons for whom UNHCR and the Kenyan authorities have already established that they are indeed genuine LGBTI cases who are in need of international protection. For those persons we will continue processing according to our standards and procedures."
So it seems now that new individual arrivals will be processed in terms of usual procedure.
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