REPORTING IN REAL TIME AS EVENTS UNFOLD: Proving that UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) is not able to provide adequate protection for Africa’s LGBT refugees: For several years LGBTI refugees have been denied the guarantee by UNHCR that they can be protected within the refugee system. It is now time to make a special plan to accommodate and provide safe shelter for LGBT Refugees. SEE NEW PICTURES BELOW AND UPDATES.
As I write this, 18 young LGBTI refugees are being driven to Kakuma Camp in Kenya, after being detained for over 48 hours, in deplorable conditions – beaten and threatened with death by Kenyan police. These young people had been living as urban refugees in Nairobi because Kakuma camp is not safe for LGBT people. And now, after being evicted from urban residences, and camping outside UNHCR gates for nights on end, and then detained, they are being returned by police to the camp, where they believe their lives will be in danger.
Unlike heterosexual refugees who are guaranteed safe harbor by host countries and UNHCR, it is apparent that it is almost impossible to provide LGBT refugees any protection, least of all, equal protection.
Since 2014, when President Museveni signed the now defunct Anti-Homosexuality Act, (dubbed “The Kill the Gays Bill” ) into law, hundreds of outed and persecuted LGBT people escaped Uganda. For most, the only option was to cross the Kenyan border to seek UNHCR protection and resettlement. Many have been resettled abroad after waiting years in unsafe and continued persecutory conditions. However for those who remain and for new arrivals, life seems bleak and hope is dwindling. The financial means needed to support these refugees in urban areas has proved to be unreliable and irregular. UNHCR has attempted to provide autonomous economic programs for the LGBT refugees, but it is now clear this has failed. Even those who have been resettled in countries such as Iceland, USA and Canada, will speak to the challenges , difficulties and atrocities they experienced as refugees, in a system that fails to provide LGBTI people with adequate support and protection.
In general when a refugee escapes war or persecution by entering a host country, they can be assured of support and protection, as by crossing a border they have hopefully escaped their persecutors. However when you are lesbian, gay or transgender – and reside on a continent where 34 countries criminalize you, its almost impossible to find safe haven in a host country, causing an enormous challenge for refugees , human rights organizations and UNHCR. There is no solution at this time. Gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, intersex and transgender people in Africa are trapped. No matter which way they turn, even when showing up to UNHCR, very few are guaranteed safety. The arrest and unconscionable treatment of the 18 refugees by Kenyan police proves this problem!
At this time, in order to survive, LGBT refugees in Kenya are forced into situations where they are compelled to prostitute themselves for a plate of food and a night in a bed. This is also causing the rise in HIV + among the LGBT refugee population. This situation is reprehensible. And the global LGBT community at large needs to do much more to advocate for and support our brothers and sisters.
The only ultimate solution, which does not exist at this time, for lack of resources and perhaps a lack of motivation, such as genuine solicitude, would be for UNHCR to provide a special protected camp or fully sponsored safe shelter exclusive for LGBTI people in several African countries, such as Kenya. What is needed is an environment that would protect LGBTI refugees, from local populace, local authorities, police, and heterosexual refugees, as many seem to support the extermination of gay people. This is critical as all refugees, most of whom are refugees because they have been traumatized in home countries, deserve a safe haven while enduring the extreme vetting process to get them resettled in countries willing to accept them. Lest we forget that the reduction in United States refugee resettlement numbers and delays caused by the Trump administration has only served to exacerbate the problem.
Now, while writing this, I am speaking via internet chat to one of the detained refugees as he sits on the bus taking them from Nairobi to Kakuma. The refugees were evicted from their urban shelters and forced to camp outside UNHCR gates, some declaring they had nowhere else to go, and others protesting security issues and the failure of UNHCR to provide protection. Several had been evicted from their shelters in Nairobi because they were unable to pay their rents. They simply had nowhere to go. While writing this – the refugees are still in police custody for the 4 hour ride, (see pic below) – all terrified, knowing the dangers of the dreaded Kakuma Camp. This is an horrendous “Catch-22” situation: The Kenyan Government does not want any refugees in urban areas, least of all the gay people who they criminalize – and the straight refugee population (mostly Sudanese war refugees) do not want gays in the camp.
So where do they go?
I am transcribing my chat here to reflect the words of the young refugee who is communicating with me via internet chat, while on the bus: I will update this story in real time, as it unfolds, in the meantime:
Tues 09th May 3.29 AM:
We are being beaten in a very bad way
That they are bringing cars to be taken to the champ
We are being taken to police now
Thurs 11th May 10.03 am :
They arrested us on Tuesday Morng outside UNHCR and we were taken to the police. In the first police we spent their 21hours and in the second police Station we spent their 23hours . They refused to take us to the court, we didn’t not do any statement at any police situation we were beaten by them.
So we don’t no what to do. Please help us out.
Just as i speak now we are in the bus with police men
On what we got from the first police they said that they will kill us and others are being killed, on the second police station we sleeped standing because when we reached at the station they filled the all room with water when they are saying that we are gay men we need to die, let me try getting you the photo as much as i can and we were arrested 18 people.
We are scared
We need need
PLEASE RETURN TO THIS PAGE AS WE CONTINUE TO REPORT AND UPDATE IN REAL TIME.
UPDATED: May 12, 2017: The18 Refugees arrived at Kakuma Camp and were required to register in the Camp. They have refused to register as they fear for their safety in the Camp and are hoping UNHCR can find a safe shelter for them. They were apparently refused food if they failed to register.
At this time they are sleeping outside the camp. This is a very delicate and unsafe situation.
The refugees want to be taken back to Nairobi – where the police had arrested them. However the Kenyan government wants all refugees in the Kakuma Camp. Refugees assert they are less safe in Kakuma than in Nairobi. Yet without support its extremely difficult to survive in Nairobi . As noted above – this is a “Catch-22” situation.
The only answer would be for UNHCR to create a special safe shelter for LGBT refugees.
We will continue to monitor the situation.
UPDATED: May 17, 2017:
The refugees upon entering Kakuma have had several challenges. They are expressing their reluctance to register at the camp for these reasons: – because the conditions are so deplorable – unsanitary and minimal food with what they believe is unclean water. And also because they fear for their safety with apparent direct threats from the heterosexual population.
There have been allegations of incidents involving violence and assaults by Kenyan authorities:
Conditions in camp: Sleeping on floor, Showers are used as toilets with dirty pads and refuse paper stuffed in the walls, Base one meal a day of sorgum and maize.:
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WRITTEN BY: Melanie Nathan
Executive Director, African Human Rights Coalition