Gay refugees suffer in Kenya’s UN-enforced squalor

Living conditions for gay refugees in Kenya remain terrible after the U.N. refugee agency’s decision to move about 200 of them from the Kakuma refugee camp to a safer but unsanitary site near Nairobi.


From the African Human Rights Media Network


UNHCR has relocated LGBTI refugees into overcrowded rooms such as this one housing more than 15 refugees. (Photo courtesy of O-blog-dee blog)

UNHCR relocated LGBTI refugees into overcrowded rooms such as this one housing more than 15 refugees. (Photo from December 2018 courtesy of O-blog-dee blog)

The Thomson Reuters Foundation reports, via the U.N. AIDS agency’s Equal Eyes news briefs:

LGBT+ refugees in Kenya accuse U.N. of failing on protection, shelter

LGBT+ refugees in Kenya [in early January] accused the United Nations of failing to provide adequate shelter and protection after they were forced to flee attacks at a refugee camp and relocated to an abandoned school on the outskirts of the capital, Nairobi.

The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) moved around 200 refugees – mostly from Uganda but also Burundi, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo – from the remote northwestern Kakuma refugee camp to a derelict building as an emergency measure in December.

But refugee representatives said not only are conditions at the shelter overcrowded and unsanitary, but growing tension and arguments between the various groups of refugees has left some LGBT+ members fearing for their safety.

“It’s three weeks and the situation is not any better here than in Kakuma. People are scared and facing death threats from other LGBT refugees here. Some sleep with knives under their pillows,” said Mbazira Moses from Refugee Flag Kakuma, a group representing the LGBT+ refugees.

Inadequate sanitation in the Nairobi compound where UNHCR has relocated 200 LGBTI refugees. (Photo courtesy of O-blog-dee blog)

Inadequate sanitation in the Nairobi compound where UNHCR has relocated 200 LGBTI refugees. (Photo courtesy of O-blog-dee blog)

“The conditions are very bad. There are six toilets for 200 people and they are blocked and overflowing – it’s disgusting and we are worried about the spread of infections especially since there are also children here.”

The refugees’ movements are also restricted by the UNHCR and they cannot leave the shelter or receive visitors, said Moses, calling on the U.N. to immediately find more dignified housing.

Thomson Reuters reported further on Jan. 24:

Dozens of LGBT+ refugees in Kenya fall sick at U.N. shelter

Dozens of LGBT+ refugees living in a shelter run by the United Nations in Kenya were taken to hospital after falling sick on [Jan. 24], days after they complained of overcrowding and poor sanitation at the facility.

About 40 refugees – including three children – were treated at a hospital on the outskirts of Nairobi after suffering vomiting, diarrhea and severe stomach cramps early on Thursday, refugee representatives said.

“At the hospital, we were put on drips and given some tablets, but the doctor refused to tell us what was wrong with us and what caused this outbreak,” said Mbazira Moses from Refugee Flag Kakuma, a group representing the LGBT+ refugees.

“We believe it is because the place is dirty with overflowing toilets and poor hygiene. We have been telling the UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) for so many days of this unbearable situation.” …

Earlier this month, the refugees complained to the UNHCR that the shelter had only six toilets for 200 people, which were blocked, warning of the spread of diseases.

But the UNHCR said the outbreak was not linked to conditions at the shelter.

“Samples were analysed for bacterial infection, including cholera, and were found to be negative,” Yvonne Ndege, UNHCR Kenya’s spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Samples have been sent for further analysis to the national government laboratory. The assessment team did not establish any connection between the conditions at facility and the diarrhea.”

The Thomson Reuters Foundation was unable to verify conditions at the shelter or meet directly with the refugees as they are not permitted to leave facility or receive visitors. U.N. officials say this is for their own security.

The UNHCR said the shelter was an emergency measure and they were in the process of finding more suitable accommodation – but did not give a time frame on when it would happen.

African countries have some of the most prohibitive laws against homosexuality in the world. Gay sex is punishable with up to 14 years in jail in Kenya. The law is rarely enforced but discrimination is widespread.

Inadequate toilet facilities in compound in Nairobi where UNHCR has relocated 200 LGBTI refugees. (Photo courtesy of O-blog-dee blog)

Inadequate toilet facilities in compound in Nairobi where UNHCR has relocated 200 LGBTI refugees. (Photo courtesy of O-blog-dee blog)

Kenya’s LGBT+ refugees need speedy resettlement in another country where they can be free and safe, say rights groups, but this can take years as most Western nations do not prioritise sexual minorities when considering asylum requests.

UNHCR vs. advocates for LGBT+ refugees

The UNHCR and advocates for the LGBT+ refugees have remained far apart in their assessments of the refugees’ living conditions and what will be done about it.

Volker Türk, the UNHCR’s assistant high commissioner for protection, wrote to two advocates:

My colleagues are working diligently to safeguard the human rights of LGBTI asylum-seekers and refugees in Kenya, to address their specific and individual needs, and to identify durable solutions that will enable them to live in safety and in dignity.

We have taken prompt and strong actions to address the needs of the LGBTI group mentioned in your communications, including relocating them to safe locations. In addition, we have provided them with assistance, medical care, food, clothing, sanitary wear, other required items, as well as identified their needs and the best solutions for them going forward on an individual basis.

In contrast, one advocate responded to Türk:

I am … currently concerned about three groups of LGBTI PoC: those who remain in Kakuma, those who are outside UNHCR in Westlands, and those who have been told that they must leave the temporary safe house at the YMCA in Nairobi. Can they be assured that they will be housed somewhere else, with access to the benefits that you mention in your email: medical care, food, etc etc? From what I hear from those who are in regular touch with me, this does not seem to be the case.

For more information, read the full articles from Thomson Reuters — “LGBT+ refugees in Kenya accuse U.N. of failing on protection, shelter” and “Dozens of LGBT+ refugees in Kenya fall sick at U.N. shelter.”

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