BBC Report on Ugandan LGBT Refugees in Kenya Speaks to Regret

While Failing to Note that the Choices are Few to None!

By Melanie Nathan, November 09, 2015.

Here is a BBC TV report for which I provided consultation.  I have posted the BBC transcript report here.  The TV version with pictures can be seen on the BBC website. The report  while providing crucial exposure, leaves out some important points. While in fact life in Kenya for LGBT refugees is hostile, dangerous and extremely difficult, one cannot lose sight of the fact that it is one of the only options available to persecuted Ugandan LGBT people to leave Uganda.  The first wave of Ugandan refugees to arrive in Kenya were resettled abroad in a record period of under 8 months. Many heterosexual refugees who have waited ten years or more  are still not resettled abroad.

BBC Kakuma KelvinHowever the fast process for the initial LGBT refugees was a result of serious security considerations by UNHCR, as the LGBT refugees could not be kept safe from the heterosexual refugees. If they chose to leave Kakuma camp and become urban refugees, they were subject to further persecution and so there was simply no safe place until resettled.

As it happens word got back to Uganda that people were being settled quickly and this resulted in an influx of LGBT who may have not truly been persecuted and considerable fraud by straight Ugandans, seeking to leave Uganda and so pretending to be gay.  Many were trafficked by money hungry fraudsters. This caused an enormous strain on the already overtaxed UNHCR system., and brought the process for many to a screeching halt for some time.

Here is the problem with this BBC report: While it says things are worse for Ugandan LGBT in Kenya, and while many regret their attempts at resettlement through Kenya, it fails to note that there are few to no choices for the non-activist members and also less privileged among the Ugandan LGBTI community who are compelled to leave Uganda due to serious persecution.

For the genuinely persecuted Ugandan LGBTI, most cannot afford air tickets abroad and most are rejected when applying for foreign visas, and therefore their only chance of asylum would be to direct themselves through the UNHCR resettlement program across the border. For a genuine case of persecution, the person has no chance of continuing a productive life in Uganda – what choices does such a person have other than to flee to Kenya? None. After all who wants to stay in a country where one has been exposed resulting in threats, beatings, mob-justice, firings, arrests, banishment, police and community blackmail?  While it is not much better and possibly worse in Kenya, at least an opportunity for resettlement is on the horizon.

Lets take the case of Tony (pseudonym.) Tony had been outed in the press and rejected and threatened with assault by his family in Uganda.  For almost 2 years now he has been unable to find any employment. He has been unable to secure a visa abroad and even if he did, who would pay his ticket?  At this time he is without food and sleeps in a room on the floor of someone’s house, after hiding on the streets periodically, between moving residences.  He moves from place to place because he cannot pay rent. He cannot seek employment because he is recognized. Relocation to another town will not help because of the extent of his exposure.   So if Tony had gone to UNHCR in Kenya 2 years ago, he may almost be ready for resettlement now.

In the conclusion of  the BBC report, the individual in the article, Tyrone, who says he regrets going to Kenya, admits that the people remaining in Uganda must stay underground: “If there is a way they can keep themselves underground there [in Uganda] they can make it because Kenya is a far worse place for gays than Uganda.”  However the BBC report fails to state that the long term result of holding out in Kenya may well override the hardship of the long wait and may well cancel out the same factors in Uganda. The only difference is that it may be easier for people to navigate territory they are used to.  At least by holding out in Kenya one is finding an opportunity to reach freedom through resettlement.

Maybe the hardship would have been worth it to Tony, because he has accomplished nothing except hiding and more fear in Uganda.  He cannot move forward with his life in Uganda. He is stuck.  He is dependent on outsiders for financial relief and that is sporadic.  To him he feels like a beggar, when in reality he is a very capable productive member of society. Yet Uganda does not give him that chance.  He says he has been robbed of his dignity and is now contemplating fleeing to Kenya, after struggling in Uganda for the past 2 years.

What is excellent to note from the BBC report –  we need to find a better solution for LGBT people – a way to thwart fraud and a safe place to send LGBT people pending their resettlement process. What is also necessary is for Western countries to reform immigration law to pave the way for LGBTI people seeking to escape the criminalizing of their sexuality.

In conclusion, unlike the header of the BBC piece, not all gays regret fleeing to Kenya – only those stuck for lengthy waits or those who may be there without resolution  – many have come across glitches in their process, caused by technicalities, lying, over stated stories, frauds, lengthy wait times, identity issues, short staffing by UNHCR.

This article sheds light on the extreme danger experienced by LGBT refugees in Kakuma Camp.  The refugees have contacted me to extend thanks to the BBC for publishing this and visiting their hardship to convey to the world.  One of the biggest concerns are the allegations of homophobia against UNHCR staff itself – and this may include some senior management staff as well.   What will UNHCR and the countries around the world do to improve this dangerous situation? I believe Kakuma is a tinderbox on the verge of disaster.

If you would like to help ease the hardship – we are restarting our Relief Campaign by providing humanitarian funding to numerous refugees in Kenya please send your donation to PayPal –  nathan@privatecourts.com .
Or at our You Caring Campaign at https://www.youcaring.com/african-human-rights-coalition-358969

The BBC Report:

Hundreds of people in Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community have fled the country to escape homophobia and persecution. But many are now stuck in Kenya where the situation is not much better.

Tyrone, not his real name, has had a tough time since arriving in Kenya in December 2014. must days after arriving in the country he was beaten up by a mob in the capital, Nairobi.

It was Christmas Day. Since then the 19-year-old has been arrested and beaten up by police three times. He told me on one occasion three policemen called him over and asked him why he was “walking like a girl”.

“When I couldn’t answer them, they beat me up and when they saw on one of my documents that I was a Ugandan refugee, they abused me saying I was one of the people Museveni [Uganda’s president] had kicked out of the country for being gay.”

He has moved house several times after being attacked by neighbours.

Tyrone is one of more than 500 Ugandans who have escaped to Kenya, to apply for asylum and be resettled abroad on the basis of their sexual orientation.

His country made international headlines in recent years when it tried to introduce a tough new anti-homosexuality law, which allowed life imprisonment for “aggravated homosexuality”.

Although the courts struck it down, the environment has proved too dangerous for a growing number of Ugandans. But in Kenya they face constant attacks, kidnappings, extortion and police harassment.

Recently, almost a dozen LGBT people were taken by the United Nation’s refugee agency (UNHCR) to a safe house in Nairobi, after they were attacked on a night out.

Even that agency – the very group tasked with protected LGBT people – has admitted its own staff are hostile.

The deputy head of protection for UNHCR told me that staff have said that as Christians they could not work with, or talk to, a gay man.

“It’s difficult for people to go beyond all the prejudices they have. And this is what we faced with our own colleagues,” Catherine Hamon explained.

Some of the Ugandans I spoke to also told me this discrimination from UNHCR staff has led to delays in determining their refugee status, making them live with uncertainty about their future.

The situation is no different for those who choose to live in refugee camps.

Standing out

Kakuma camp in the remote north-west is home to nearly 200,000 people – mainly from conflict-ridden places such as South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and the Great Lakes region. So the Ugandans – whose country is considered peaceful – stand out. They live in three compounds, tucked away in a corner of the camp.

One of the group leaders, a tall, deep voiced middle-aged man, says living together offers them protection in numbers. But it has also made them easy targets for other refugees. “In Uganda we were unsafe and here it’s the same,” said Blessed, not his real name. He was a church pastor in Uganda and fled to Kakuma 18 months ago after his name was published in a local newspaper, which said he was gay.

He received death threats and had to leave his family behind. “I don’t know if I will ever see them again,” he said. “First I have to survive being here and then maybe one day I can entertain that thought.” The Ugandans have to sleep in shifts – taking it in turns to guard their compounds at night, after an attempt this year to burn it down.

And that is not the only threat they have received. A few weeks back, hate leaflets were circulated around the camp asking people not to mix with the LGBT community there.

kakuma“It is such incidents that just show we are not wanted here,” said Helen, who teaches at one of the dozens of schools in the camp.

Like many of the Ugandan refugees in Kakuma, Helen is well educated and had a well-paying job as an events manager in Ugandan.

Now she barely gets by.

“What kills me most is the uncertainty of this place.

“I don’t have any hope here – any hope of going back home or seeing my partner, and any hope of getting my refugee status resolved.”

Waiting game

The UNHCR says it faces a backlog of more than 20,000 cases of all refugees in the country, just waiting for their status to be determined.

“Back in February, traffickers took advantage of what was happening in Uganda and we started seeing huge numbers of people coming in, claiming to be gay or lesbians,” explained Ms Hamon.

While they are still offering people from the LGBT community a fast track in registration, she admits it is not as fast as before.

The initial group of refugees who came to Kenya from Uganda were resettled abroad within six months – a record time of because of the unique security challenges they faced.

The US, Canada, the UK and Scandinavian countries were the most receptive to the Ugandans.Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 5.40.25 PM

Now it will take around two years to go through the whole process, according to Ms Hamon.

So people just have to wait.

And for people who are still in Uganda, Tyrone has a stark message.

“If there is a way they can keep themselves underground there [in Uganda] they can make it because Kenya is a far worse place for gays than Uganda.”

*********  Source BBC  *********

  • NOTE: We have informed BBC that the use of the word “transexual” is considered dated and incorrect and the correct terminology is “transgender”.If you would like to help ease the hardship – we are restarting our Relied Campaign by providing humanitarian funding to numerous refugees in Kenya please send your donation to PayPal –  nathan@privatecourts.com .
    Or at our You Caring Campaign at https://www.youcaring.com/african-human-rights-coalition-358969

Contact: Melanie Nathan commissionermnathan@gmail.com

you caring fund relief


12 thoughts on “BBC Report on Ugandan LGBT Refugees in Kenya Speaks to Regret

  1. Mabiriizi Maurice-kakuma camp-LGBTIQ.community.
    Dear friendly hearts.
    This to me means 2 more years of anarchy in this camp!
    Religiously,we are told we are God’s creation may he forgot us!
    May be we LGBTI s in kakuma are not members of the human race?
    ALLUTA.

  2. Thanks for pointing out the error about transsexual. We have now corrected it: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-34764968
    You make a valid point that for many Ugandans the only option they have is to go to Kenya, despite the lengthly delays and the homophobia they experience. What we were trying to show is that Kenya is not the safe haven it should be for LGBT refugees. As a result for those that are now stuck in limbo waiting to get resettled, it has become a living hell.

    1. Thanks – many refugees in Kakuma have contacted me to tell me to thank BBC for the article – for shedding light on the heart wrenching hardship our community is experiencing. We just want to be sure that the world knows, as well, that there are not many options – if any – beyond resorting to Kenya for the help of UNHCR. We also want to note that we understand the worldwide migrant crisis is at a high – and resources are limited.

  3. Hi Nathan,

    Thank you so much for shedding light on that piece, it took me by surprise as well bse the BBC reporter didn’t delve into the other side to find out why things are the way they are.

    on the ground, many of these lgbti have become sex workers and are already in a cut throat competition with Kenyan sex workers, something that has rendered their lives miserable. to some of these whose happiness depends on having “fun” as in sex, life has to be worse.

    my humble request would go to UN and other agencies to involve these asylum seekers into acquisition of vocational skills so that they can become useful even to those countries where they will b resettled.

  4. as Iam a LGBT who is living in Nairobi, I have faced alot of problems with Kenyan people, Iam a transgender who came here to seek protection but since I came here in earth Feb until now I haven’t done any single interview, am all alone here I gave up everything and ran, although I get financial assistance but I need to get away from the people because am not safe here, dear people am just a human being like every one else

  5. as Iam a LGBT who is living in Nairobi, I have faced alot of problems with Kenyan people, Iam a transgender who came here to seek protection but since I came here in earth Feb until now I haven’t done any single interview, am all alone here I gave up everything and ran, although I get financial assistance but I need to get away from the people because am not safe here, dear people am just a human being like every one else ,So please we Uganda are fine because we are blackmailed and people talk alot about our view as lgbti.WE ARE NOT SAFE

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