Refugees

UPDATE: LGBTQ+ Refugees remain in Block 13 at Kakuma Camp, Kenya

Post Series: Kakuma Refugees

LGBTQ+ rights groups in Africa and abroad continue to lobby the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to take urgent steps in actioning demands for the safety of the LGBTQ refugees, who have faced continuous attacks from other residents at Kakuma camp. The latest of these attacks occurred on 15 February and 15 March 2021 resulting in LGBTQ+ refugees sustaining various injuries, including burns as camp residents set their lodgings ablaze.

Following the March 18, 2021 update Jordan and Chriton, who suffered 2nd degree burns when their homes were torched on 15 March 2021, were finally airlifted to a main hospital in Nairobi on, Friday, March 19, 2021; after Kenyan police, medical personnel and UNHCR had been slow to respond to emergency calls. Upon arrival in Nairobi, they received preliminary care, which was mostly an assessment of the severity of their wounds. This unfortunately has not resulted in them getting the care they need. The situation in Nairobi remains similar to the one experienced at Lodwar hospital, where Jordan and Chriton were first treated,  however, exacerbated by stigma and discrimination based on social – cultural beliefs and personal attitudes toward LGBTQ+ persons, from health care workers.

Both the UNHCR and the African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC) have written statements that have been received with mixed reactions from advocacy groups working on the issue. The UNHCR in its statement, expressed concern over the disparity in reports given from Kakuma camp, highlighting that their attempts to resolve the issues with the groups concerned were not fruitful, a notion supported and expanded on by the AHRC.

We note with concern that they mention:

  • “Most of the LGBTQI population in Kakuma have reported that they have remained relatively safe…” 

We believe that there has been sufficient evidence posted and published, including live interviews with victims which are indicative that the majority of the LGBTQ+ people in the camp do not feel safe. One such example would be the -/+ 200 LGBTQ+ members who attended the February meeting with UNHCR and the visual evidence highlighting their attendance which has been widely shared on various social media platforms. Furthermore, last April, people protesting at the UNHCR offices in Nairobi sought to highlight the unsafe conditions of the camps such as attacks on: LGBTQ+ refugees including, harassment and discrimination and, their shelters have been set on fire. These issues, however, were not given priority.

  • “When suggestions are made and guidelines are provided, AHRC is rebuked by those who have chosen to ignore the calls for dialogue and peaceful solutions…”

The calls for dialogue and peaceful solutions have involved sitting at the table with the same perpetrators of violence. An ill-considered scenario that highlights the insensitivity toward the victims of these heinous attacks. A consideration should be made for the trauma, abuse, violence, or the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that the victims have been subjected to. It is irresponsible and insensitive to ask for survivors of violence to enter a mediation process in this context.

  • “This group has received offers of relocation into smaller groups in the camp, like the 30 who UNHCR just relocated, successfully.  While we understand the desperate needs of all refugees, and especially LGBTQI refugees to be resettled soonest, we do not think self-outing, public displays of affection, holding Pride in central Kakuma, flying rainbow flags etc. is helpful and serves only to provoke potentially homophobic neighbours and the Kenyan Government.”

The remainder of the statement goes on to elaborate on the instances of “ingratitude” and “unreasonable demands for safety” by the LGBTQ+ refugees, essentially blaming the victims for the violence that has been meted out against them. We would caution any human rights organisation against suggesting that the oppressed should not live too loudly, lest they provoke the oppressor. The (in)actions and subsequent statements from the UNHRC and the AHRC have in fact perpetuated a breeding ground for violence. By blaming LGBTQ+ refugees for the violence they have faced they have allowed for heteronormative and patriarchal values to go unchecked, further deteriorating their safety and security.

CAL and its partners continue to urge the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to urgently respond to the safety concerns of the LGBTQ+ victims in Kakuma and provide adequate care for those who are in hospital in a timeous and sensitive manner. Their mandate to protect and assist refugees without favour and/ or discrimination should be a point for UNHCR’s recommitment to safeguarding the rights of the LGBTQ refugees in Kakuma.      

Here’s how you can take action:

  1. Tweet at UNHCR High Commissioner @FilippoGrandi and UNHCR Kenya representative @Fathiaabdalla. Demand that the burn victims to Nairobi receive adequate treatment and the remaining victims be evacuated from Block 13 Kakuma, where they face constant homophobic and transphobic violence.
  2. Sign the petition urging the UNHCR to ensure the safety of LGBTQ people at Kakuma by relocating them to Nairobi.
  3. Make a donation to the burn victims’ fund by emailing Shanice@triangle.org.za
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