UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, called today for enhanced dialogue among refugee communities living in Kakuma to help reduce the tensions which have emerged in a specific area of the refugee camp.
In recent weeks, UNHCR has received conflicting reports from different communities who have been accusing each other of provoking violence. While this does not reflect the overall security situation in the Kakuma camps, we are concerned by these rising tensions.
More specifically, in the past weeks, a small group of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Intersex (LGBTI) refugees and asylum-seekers have been reporting incidents of violence against them. In parallel, members of other refugee communities and LGBTI refugees and asylum-seekers living in other parts of the Kakuma camp have reported threats and violence perpetrated by individuals belonging to this small group.
In total, an estimated 300 refugees and asylum-seekers who self-identify as LGBTI currently live in Kakuma. The majority live dispersed across the camp, are well integrated and have reported a limited number of security incidents over the past several months.
The security and well-being of all refugees and asylum-seekers, regardless of their age, nationality sexual orientation, gender identity, race or any other aspect of their profile, is UNHCR’s top priority. We condemn any violence against refugees and asylum-seekers, including acts perpetrated by other refugees.
In response to the incidents reported by the small group of LGBTI refugees and asylum-seekers, police and local authorities have enhanced the security measures in the areas of the camp where they reside. UNHCR always takes immediate action to follow up each incident reported to us to ensure that those concerned have access to the services they need. National authorities and NGO partners offer a range of services in Kakuma, including health, legal and psycho-social support. An ambulance is on standby to transport those in need of medical care to the local health facility.
UNHCR understands the increased challenges that vulnerable refugees and asylum-seekers, including some with an LGBTI profile, are facing due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. UNHCR works alongside partners to identify those most in need to offer assistance, psycho-social support and counseling. This includes mental health assistance and regular home visits. The dedicated UNHCR Kenya toll-free and multi-lingual Protection Helpline is accessible 24/7 to facilitate access to law enforcement, medical services or counseling, as required. These services have been reinforced to meet increased demand in recent months, including for those with suicidal ideation. Several hundred individuals in Kakuma, including some with an LGBTI profile, have benefitted from these services during the month of June alone.
To reduce tensions and facilitate peaceful co-existence in the area where incidents have been reported, UNHCR, along with its Kenya counterpart, the Refugee Affairs Secretariat, local law enforcement and refugee community leaders, has put in place mechanisms for community dialogue, bringing all refugee groups together to openly discuss challenges and identify constructive ways to address them and improve the security of all residents. We hope that those who have so far refused to engage will agree to join this important initiative.
We are also troubled that, while following up on the incidents reported by this small group, we have found inconsistencies in many of their accounts when compared with information collected by the police and provided by other refugees. These disturbing inconsistencies have been corroborated by organizations working in the camp.
We are also concerned by the spreading of information that mischaracterizes the situation in Kakuma on social media. We urge everyone, including individuals living outside of Kenya, to verify information with diverse sources before posting. Misinformation can only increase tensions in the camp and undermine our continued and collective efforts to protect those in need, ensure peaceful co-existence and safeguard the best interest of all refugees, including those with an LGBTI profile.
UNHCR and partners will continue to explore all means available to provide protection and assistance to refugees and asylum-seekers in Kakuma, who form a part of the nearly 500,000 refugees and asylum-seekers currently hosted in Kenya.
Melanie Nathan from African Human Rights Coalition is available for comment - contact nathan@AfricanHRC.org