One Refugee’s Poignant Protest Noted on this Transgender Day of Visibility

Today millions throughout the world celebrate the Transgender Day of Visibility. As I write this, my e-mail box is filling up with press releases and messages from Western organizations all doing imperative work around trans lives and various related issues.  I have not seen any messages reflecting on the hopelessness for survival that some trans people are experiencing in this moment, yet still willing to be visible. One such person is a transgender refugee in Africa who refuses to hide, in her protest for protection.

Indeed, throughout the world trans people experience discrimination and violence – because of their gender identity.  However in Africa, unlike the U.S.A., or Europe, there is almost nowhere to turn to when in crisis.  In most African countries, a trans person is unsafe reporting a crime to their government and this is because their very being is criminalized and  government persecution will certainly follow any report. There is also no one to turn to for shelter, food, and medical needs, because most trans people have been ostracized by their families and friends, evicted, banished, denied schooling, and are unable to obtain employment.  There is most often nowhere to go and no one to turn to!

So as a last resort many transgender people will cross a border into a neighboring country to reach UNHCR in the hope of resettlement abroad.

At this time there are virtually no options within the UNHCR processing system to keep LGBTI people safe and trans people are at particular grave risk, even in host countries:

The trans woman depicted here (who I shall call Charrey) has been living on the streets of Nairobi after experiencing violence in the Kakuma Camp and also in the Nairobi urban community. After being forced to move many times, she is severely traumatized and constantly harassed by police. For the past 23 days, Charrey has been camped in the cold outside UNHCR gates, going at times for days without food or covers, and she is insisting on UNHCR safe shelter protection, in circumstances where the type of protection is simply not available to her.

If Charrey returns to Kakuma she faces grave danger and if she agrees to move into the room we have offered her, she believes her life will still be at risk for yet further attacks by local community members. Her insistence on remaining at the UNHCR gates is her form of protest, where she is refusing to turn her back on the fact, even at greater risk to her safety, that trans people do not have any mechanism for full protection by UNHCR or any government host authority while in Africa.

This is a complex matter as many issues prevail – and UNHCR is not able- perhaps for lack of funding and resources-  to provide the absolute protection needed at this time by LGBTI refugees.   LGBT communities should be lobbying UNHCR to provide trans specific and LGBTI specific safe shelters with special protection – and LGBTI refugee communities should remain in compliance with the rules and regulations that are in place at this time to mitigate their exposure.   In the meantime perhaps this lone protest will pull at the heartstrings of Geneva and perhaps they will find a way to provide transgender Africans with special protections that are much needed. Today ais Transgender Day of Visibility – and how much more visible can one be than Charrey! Can you see her?

Please note: To assist LGBTI refugees, consider donating to (tax deductible)
or at
or at

Melanie Nathan
Executive Director:
African HRC
[email protected] 

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