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U.N. promises one-on-one attention to Kenya refugees

It’s wait-and-see time for LGBTQ refugees who took refuge at the main gate of the huge Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.

From the African Human Rights Media Network

LGBTQ refugees spent Christmas camping outside the Kakuma Camp reception center in hopes of avoiding violence in the camp. (Photo courtesy of the African Human Rights Coalition)

Their hope is that the U.N. refugee agency will make good on its promise of individual interviews and individual recommendations of safer locations in the camp for each of about 45 LGBTQ refugees who fled from inside the camp after they were attacked on Dec. 21.

On Jan. 7, they were also attacked at the gate of the Kakuma reception center, reportedly by homophobic fellow refugees and the region’s Turkana people.

Officials of The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees have said that the LGBTQ refugees inside the camp were victims of nothing worse than petty vandalism and theft.

The U.S.-based African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC) supplied food and water to the group at the gate and worked with the UNHCR to seek remedies for the group’s problems.

The AHRC issued the following statement, recommending peaceful cooperation by LGBTQ refugees (addressed as “people of concern” or P.O.C.) as well as restraint and honesty by refugees’ advocates:

Re: P.O.C. Kakuma Camp
Jan 09, 2020

From: African Human Rights Coalition:

A. To: POC/ Refugees at Kakuma Reception Center Gate

1. African HRC is reaching out to LGBTI Refugees/ P.O.C at Kakuma Reception Center and Gate and asking you to fully and peacefully cooperate with UNHCR for interviews and placement:

LGBTQ refugee at the gates of the Kakuma refugee camp. (Photo courtesy of the O-blog-dee blog)

2. We have been assured by UNHCR that each individual will be privately interviewed and specially assessed by UNHCR, one by one and then you will receive a tailored solution to your needs. You will be assigned the best available placement/shelter/ services depending on your situation. YOU MUST take full advantage of this opportunity for yourself.

3. African HRC urges POC/ Refugees at Kakuma Gate to accept this with patience and to cooperate fully and in good faith with UNHCR.

4. That after UNHCR makes the determination, the individual should accept the tokens/ vouchers and placement decision. Once they do so, UNHCR will provide whatever they can to assist in the comfort and safety for that individual.

5. EACH of you are advised to agree leave reception and gate once assigned a shelter. Because reception is not a long term option. We have asked for other options with UNHCR, but there are none at this time, except an invitation to explore innovative solutions which we shall engage in for the long term.

6. UNHCR in good faith will provide safest available placements. You can tell UNHCR about your concerns for security and they will work with you to provide safety measures. Any problems should be reported immediately to the HELPLINE and Protection Officer.

7. UNHCR has reassured us: that with support of the local authorities in Kakuma they are continuously engaged in efforts aimed at strengthening the security in and around the camp. UNHCR also advises they are engaged in employee sensitivity trainings and they take complaints about staff treatment of refugees very seriously and each instance that is filed in complaint boxes or through other official channels are taken seriously and investigated. If you are experiencing security related incidents PLEASE IMMIEDIATELY AND FIRST report to the police and the UNHCR office in Kakuma. You can also report to African HRC and we will monitor if your report has been received at Helpline.

Please Note: If there is a need to fortify your shelter, as we have noticed other refugees in the camp are doing to protect from theft and vandalism, let us know at African HRC and we will see what we can do to further support your needs. African HRC will help advocate for better facilities. But we cannot do if we are constantly chasing emergencies and crisis.

B. To All LGBTI People of Concern, Activists, and Leadership re Kenya

Kakuma Camp is about 730 kilometers (450 miles) from Nairobi. (Map courtesy of Canadian Lutheran World Relief)

8. Important: Do not go unpermitted into any area. You can be arrested. Do not travel to Nairobi without permits. You will be arrested and that could hurt your possible chance of resettlement.

9. In general relocation to Nairobi is not an option because of Kenya’s encampment policy. We encourage you to avoid arrest. Kenyan Refugee Act says that Kenya can withdrawn refugee status if someone commits a serious crime. Arrest can lose you your resettlement.

10. Transfer to Nairobi: This is against encampment policy. If a particular individual requests a transfer/ permission papers for Nairobi, they will be fully and respectfully heard in the interview by UNHCR staff and if UNHCR sees a viable exception then they will be processed accordingly. We advise all POC that this is generally NOT available. The encampment policy is KENYAN LAW.

11. African HRC is working , as are others on better long term solutions. However when things are chaotic and always in an emergency mode, we cannot focus on long term outcomes.

12. Remember we will advocate for you. We will help with your cases, but we cannot take cases of people who do not follow instructions. We denounce violence on all accounts. We will not work with any P.O.C. or refugees who is engaged in violence, incites or threatens violence of whatsoever nature, even if couched in defensive terms. We promote peaceful conduct. We understand the need for targeted protests and support peaceful protest that is in good faith. However we are aware that sometimes this serves to encourage arrests and give police an excuse to arrest, even if the protest is peaceful.

13. We have asked UNHCR to be aware we require rapid responses to complaints and situations. If you overwhelm them with numerous activists writing on your behalf, it does not help and many emails could be missed. It takes away their time to actually get the work done.

14. POC are advised to remain unprovocative, not to flaunt LGBTI status, to remain private, and to focus on sustaining their individual development with the hope of resettlement or economic integration. Any further advice as to our support for this is appreciated.

Kakuma LGBTQ refugee advocate Moses Mbazira poses with a rainbow LGBT flag in 2017 in his tent at Kakuma Camp. (Photo courtesy of Mbazira Moses)

15. At Kakuma: Anti-Gay people believe that gays recruit their children. Pride parades and such are misinterpreted. To engage in open displays of being LGBTQI should be accompanied by community pre sensitivity discussions and POC should be aware they would be exposing themselves to danger through such outings. While we understand and respect your rights to do this, African HRC will not fund any medical emergencies that result from public displays of self-outing while a refugee in Kakuma, such as waving of rainbow flags or gay/pride events held in Kakuma.

16. POC are reminded that any violence or criminal activity can result in arrests and having refugee status revoked. This can impact resettlement. It is therefore best that POC focus on individual interests.

C. General warnings to all

17. WARNING: Hundreds of armchair activist on social media writing to UNHCR each and every time per case of POC does not help the situation — it makes it slower and worse. This often causes confusion and takes away from the time UNHCR could be using to work on cases and help with resources. Also some of those (Western) activists are rude and alienating and that does not help refugees or help in advocacy. African culture tends to be polite. Westerners stepping on the toes of that politeness can result in backlash to the refugee.

Leadership should not see assaults and security breach incidents as money making opportunity for all, which seems to be the case in some circles. THIS WILL END UP HURTING ALL LEGITIMATE SITUATIONS.

18. WARNING: ACTIVISTS and LGBTI POC LEADERSHIP – are asked to STOP providing personal information – Names, numbers and medical info and status of refugee – online, on social media, in groups or in emails – to a wide net of ACTIVISTS, ORGS, PRESS and UNKNOWN people. This is a danger to the refugee and gets spread around unsolicited. THIS IS NOT OK!!! These names, private information and medical pictures such as XRAYS and medical documents being out in the public domain are a breach of the individuals privacy, even if you think you have permission from the refugee. So REFRAIN whether you have permission or not. It does nothing at all to help and does not make a situation any better. IN FACT these emails and social media posts have been used as HIT LISTS – and you are contributing to that.

19. WARNING: STOP using words like “genocide” and “death squads” in your outreach when describing the Kenyan authorities, local hosts or Kenya. That is a lie. Exaggeration and dishonesty loses credibility for us all!!! That is NOT what is happening. Kenya does not have death squads. That is like slapping your hosts in the face to say that untruth. While police are can be cruel and unfair and often commit serious human rights infractions – this is NOT death squads. Kenya does not have to agree to host refugees on basis of SOGI – yet they have done so. And so we have to work with them because there is no other alternatives at this time. There are few to no African countries hosting in this robust fashion based on SOGI. We must be aware of this.

20. Yes, there is homophobia – and, yes, there have been targeted attacks by individual groups. BUT to call it death squads? – THERE ARE NONE. While Kenya is a hostile host, it is still processing LGBTQI refugees and if you continue with this untrue depiction they will end up cutting you off from any opportunity to be a refugee in their country and they will close down the program and there will be no other country to step up to process LGBTQI refugees. Why should they tolerate untrue allegations that make them look bad and continue to host LGBTQI? That does not mean you cannot complain about human rights breaches, beatings, corruption etc. It just means tell the truth and stop inciting a worse situation. NOW many of us do not believe Kenya is working out to be a good solution at this time. HOWEVER we also know that at this time they are the ONLY solution – one of very few possibilities for resettlement on the continent for LGBTQI. So please do not alienate them any further.

21. WARNING: STOP helping straight people pretend they are GAY! Gay people are not being resettled any quicker. It is hurting all the legitimate cases and bringing mistrust to all.

22. WARNING: We are asking people to lay low while we try and come up with better long term solutions for safety.

23. NOTICE: To transgender refugees- PLEASE know when it is safe to wear your real clothing and when not. This is a very sad situation where we have to warn people about what they should wear. I wish we did not have to say this. We fully understand you want to dress as your true self all the time. We suggest that if you go out to get food, market, walk in streets, your chances of being attacked increase if you wear clothes that others do not understand or see as provocative. We would NEVER tell this to someone who is not in a makeshift temporary refugee Camp or a criminalizing country. We also urge caution where you display rainbow flags. We are asking people to lay low while we try and come up with better long term solutions for safety.


Aluta Continua,

Your African HRC Family

African HRC Jan 2020