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A Message to Ugandan Gay Refugees in Kenya

Time to Consider Improving Education and Skills for Successful Resettlement Trajectory

Many of you are contacting African HRC (AHRC) because you are fearful of the HIAS new funding protocol. You know what you went through last month when HIAS did not provide the rent monies and landlords locked you out. It was tough. It was unsettling and resulted in a big protest at UNHCR – which can be alienating rather than helpful to your short term and long term needs. You were given limited funds. However the problem may persist, each month from here on.

HIAS has suggested you each bring a business plan and they will fund a one time amount of KES to start a business, instead of monthly ongoing support from them. Offering you money to start businesses while you await resettlement is a way of "washing their hands" off your needs, and a way of accommodating their shortage of funds. After you accept that money they will no longer support you and you will be expected to make your own living. In any event the HIAS monthly money has not been enough for urban refugees to survive safely and comfortably, and so many refugees have sought money from ad hoc international funders. This has not been a reliable way to survive.

Many Kuchus have written to AHRC saying they are skeptical of the HIAS business funding plan and that it will not work – due to language barriers, being further exposed in urban settings as gay refugees from Uganda - xenophobia, homophobia, - and so many believe they are being set up for failure.

There is not much help coming through at this time for you from abroad or from your local organizations back in Uganda. Even though activists travel abroad to seek funds for the work of their local organizations, we have not had word that funding is being formally sought for Ugandan Kuchu refugees and exiles. Small grassroots fundraisers are being held in Uganda and abroad - but this will never be enough money to sustain as many as perhaps 300 Kuchus and the years of waiting for resettlement as urban refugees.

The UNHCR process toward resettlement is taking between 1 to 2 years. From information at hand, it seems that Canada is not taking any new LGBTI refugees from Kenya during the year 2015. The U.S.A. and other countries have a very slow process in resettling African refugees. Already LGBTI people are receiving special consideration because their security issues are exacerbated by an unkind and dangerous anti-gay climate imposed on them by local populations, government, police and the straight refugee populace. It is illegal to be LGBTI in Kenya too.

UNHCR and HIAS are working very hard to provide as much assistance as they can. But the task is not easy, given that they are underfunded, short staffed and that there are no accommodations or safe-shelter for LGBTI refugees, who have to find ways to house themselves in urban areas to avoid Kakuma and transit camps. This is in the midst of the Kenyan Government actually ordering ALL refugees back to the camps, making the task even harder for UNHCR.

Another problem has been the human trafficking and influx of scores more people from Uganda, many of whom are straight and pretending to be gay, thinking they have an easy ticket to resettlement abroad, a ticket out of poverty. This is fraud and is slowing down the process for legitimate gay and lesbians Ugandan refugees. Also some Ugandan gays are traveling back and forth between Uganda and Kenya. UNHCR is aware of this and it is also causing delays in people's processing. It is perceived as fraudulent. This is because if you are a refugee from Uganda in Kenya it is supposed to mean that you are in too much danger to be in Uganda. So if you are in real danger the question is why would you travel back and forth? If you are caught undermining the refugee system in this way your refugee status and mandate could be withdrawn, and you may never have another opportunity to exile in this way, even if you are in terrible danger.

Yes we agree – we should all be able to live in a country where we are free to express our sexuality and gender identity – however one must look at the full picture realistically and this post expresses the reality.

With all that said, AHRC is urging the following:

1) AHRC has warned many potential refugees of pitfalls before travel and most often the advice is ignored: Ugandan LGBT please plan carefully before leaving Uganda for Kenya. Many refugees are saying life in Kenya, waiting for resettlement, is worse than being gay in Uganda.

However those with imminent arrests or under imminent threat of harm, may have no choice but to leave Uganda urgently. Only you are the best to judge your own situation. Please be honest about your situation - at least be honest to yourself. And you are given the facts. Please note that if you leave and if you are not truly in danger – you may be hurting the chances of survival for those who are truly in danger– because you are depleting the minimal resources available and creating too much attention pof the people who are your real enemies. You may also be facing huge obstacles and challenges. You need at least $150 per month to survive in Kenya and you need to have that income for at least 18-24 months. HIAS may stop funding altogether - you cannot rely on other organizations. ( Note: If 300 people receive $150 per month each for 12 months that is over half a million USD!)

2) Surviving in a new country is not easy – everyone thinks it’s a picnic. It is not. If you arrive abroad, with no education, your opportunities are extremely limited and it is not a great life. Yes, you will be able to be more open about your sexuality and you may be safer. Please consider and weigh it all up and perhaps consider trying to stay as long as possible in your home country where perhaps you can focus on education and skill building, in a place that is familiar to you – while obviously keeping as safe as possible.

Back to my initial point – if you are currently a refugee in Kenya – or even still in Uganda – find whatever opportunities you can to study further, get an education. Please go back to school – go to University – join a sports teams – learn a skill – do whatever you can to improve your situation from within – instead of languishing around waiting for some outsiders to help you. It will not serve you well! I know its easier said than done – and I know its easy for me to talk. You have to help yourself first and you cannot depend on the outside world. There is always a way if you set your mind to it - you can be the agent of your own change.

I am suggesting you look into what possible opportunities there are for refugees in Kenya to study and find skills. And if there are no such opportunities - perhaps that is something to advocate for with HIAS instead of businesses that are set up to fail. There is that old saying – “nothing ventured – nothing gained”. I have not looked into this from here in San Francisco – how about some of you look into it from within?

Let us not forget the most important piece is to stay safe – and so unfortunately one cannot do much if one is going to be too open about one’s sexuality. We hate to suggest anyone wait in the closet – and believe generally in being OUT.

But as the writer of this piece I can say - I also believe in being clever first and beating the adversity with wisdom.

Get educated, get wise, and then your time will come when you can slam that closet door behind and walk the road to success and freedom.

Short URL: @AfricanHRC #AHRCRefugee

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