Will the U.N., Kenya, the U.S. and other Western countries stop mistreating and shunning LGBT+ refugees in Kenya now that the agency overseeing the Kakuma refugee camp has decided it cannot assure their safety there?
The U.N. refugee agency’s plan to move LGBT+ refugees from Kakuma to safe houses in Nairobi provides a chance for a fresh start, but it won’t succeed if neglect and homophobia continue to rule the day.
The announcement by the U.N. High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) leaves many questions unanswered — some of them potentially life-and-death questions.
Is divide-and-conquer the UNHCR strategy?
Is the UNHCR plan to move all of the about 200 LGBT+ refugees from Kakuma to Nairobi, or only their leaders, the 20 to 30 refugees who protested and were beaten at the UNHCR compound on Wednesday?
Several of those leaders declared today that they would refuse to leave Kakuma until all LGBT+ refugees have been relocated to safety.
His face cut and his right eye swollen shut from Wednesday’s beating, Mbazira Moses, executive director of the camp’s LGBTI support group Refugee Flag Kakuma, said in a video:
“I’m not leaving Kakuma when my people, or my fellows, are still in the camp.”
Theo, another leader of the refugees, added:
“We cannot leave our people. An LGBTI is not safe in the camp…. We are not leaving until everyone is out of the camp, until every LGBTI is out of the camp.”
Will the LGBT+ refugees actually be safe in Nairobi or will they merely be dispersed, less visible and less able to organize to demand safety and fair treatment?
One hint that a UNHCR objective is to eliminate negative publicity about Kakuma Camp: LGBT protesters’ phones were reportedly confiscated and have not been returned.
Will LGBT+ refugees receive adequate food in Nairobi?
They have been ill-fed in Kakuma because the UNHRC, under budgetary pressure, repeatedly cut back food deliveries to them and to the many, many other refugees there. Other LGBT+ refugees on the streets of Nairobi have been similarly neglected and mistreated.
“UNHCR must see this through to a safe house where the refugees are not expected to walk the streets of Nairobi begging and seeking rent and food money,” declares Melanie Nathan, South African-American executive director of the African Human Rights Coalition.
UNHCR must make amends for its part in allowing this happen. They have an onerous duty to see the protection through to the fullest extent possible – they must form partnerships or whatever it takes to provide adequate housing and food. UNHCR must also work to rectify the way in which some of their own staff have been treating LGBTQI refugees – at this time they are steeped in accusations of homophobia.
Can the community-based organizations that provide shelter in Nairobi actually free up enough spaces in safe houses for the influx from Kakuma?
One refugee advocate reported that the UNHCR plan was to divide the refugees to various emergency shelters in Nairobi, feed them for a week and then turn them out onto the streets with relocation grants of 15,000 Kenyan shillings (about U.S. $150) each.
Will Western countries accept more LGBT+ asylum-seekers?
The UNHRC statement “reiterates that every individual has a fundamental human right to seek asylum and enjoy international protection.” But those rights are meaningless without policy changes by those Western nations that have set strict limits on legal migration and acceptance of asylum-seekers.
“UNHCR continues to call on the international community to offer increased places for resettlement, and to accept the urgent and emergency resettlement of LGBTI refugees at highest risk,” the UNHCR statement said.
Nathan reiterated that appeal, calling on the LGBTQ community in the United States in particular:
“The international community must come forward to assist in making sure we are able to resettle these LGBT refugees. While resettlement is no guarantee, it ought to be for LGBTQI people – because the very countries that could host them on the continent, such as Kenya, continue to criminalize and brutalize them. There is no safe place unless resettled abroad. For LGBTQI people the host countries are hostile hosts. The very persecution which refugees have escaped form their home countries continues in the country that is supposed to host safety and solution.
“The United States plays a great part in this effort to resettle LGBTQI refugees. Since Trump came into office the refugee numbers have been decreased and the resettlement process has slowed down to a virtual standstill. The Trump refugee policy has had a dangerous impact on LGBTQ refugee in Africa. We cannot ignore or shirk our responsibility, but unfortunately under the leadership of the Trump administration the pipeline to America for LGBTQI, the most marginalized of all refugees, is now impacting to a point where lives are endangered. The United States Embassy in Kenya and RSC Africa must work toward prioritizing people who in effect are not even safe in the host country.
“Last night I sent a letter to the Ambassador of the United States in Kenya reporting on the attack in Kakuma. I pledge to continue the outreach in the United States, including reaching out to our Senators and State department, through my work with African HRC. However I am also asking my American LGBTQ community to help us in any way possible to keep this fight going – especially with donations to www.AfricanHRC.org (all volunteers and no salaries – but must cover expenses) and to keep your eyes open to share what we are doing on social media. We the global LGBTQ family are the ONLY family these refugees have and we must provide our support in an effective and meaningful way.”