In a rare change of heart, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has airlifted the victims of a March 15 homophobic fire attack at Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp to Nairobi for better medical attention.
By Kikonyogo Kivumbi
On March 15 at 2:45am Kenya time, homophobic attackers set LGBTQ+ people on fire while they were sleeping at Block 13 of Kakuma Refugee Camp. The horrific act of violence resulted in two refugees — Jordan and Trinidad — being severely burned.
The extensive burns covered huge areas of their bodies, including their feet and legs. For one of the victims, the burns extended to his upper body.
Human rights activists have repeatedly called on the Kenyan government and the United Nations to do more to stop the attacks and relocate the refugees to a safer place.
After two days of languishing in pain without adequate medical care, UNHCR transported Jordan and Trinidad by ambulance to Lodwar County Hospital, about 125 km from Kakuma. In doing this, UNHCR went against the recommendation of first responders and community members who knew that Nairobi hospitals were best equipped to take care of the two burn victims.
The activists issued a call to action March 18. It can be accessed here.
An international coalition of organizations including Coalition of African Lesbians, JASS Southern Africa, Triangle Project, Global Interfaith Network, Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project and others demanded:
- The UNHCR must airlift the two severely burned victims of the homophobic attack on Block 13 to Nairobi for treatment.
- The UNHCR must transfer the entire LGBTQ+ Block 13 Group at risk to the transit center and immediately provide them with highly accountable 24/7 security as urgent evacuation plans are being put in place.
- The UNHCR must evacuate the LGBTQ+ Block 13 Group at risk from Kakuma to Nairobi by Thursday, March 18th, and expedite their resettlement as they are survivors of intensive and unending homophobic attacks.
- The Kenyan government and all its institutions have a duty to protect everyone within their borders regardless of their citizenship status. Protecting refugees is the primary responsibility of the State.
- We call on all our allies and partners, human rights organisations and defenders to share this statement / issue yours and stand in unequivocal solidarity with the community in Block 13.
Later on March 18, LGBTQ rights activist Victor Mukasa reported, “UNHCR has finally airlifted the 2 victims of the March 15 homophobic fire attack at Block 13 in Kakuma Refugee Camp. This happened today, just after 3pm Kenya time. Their condition has deteriorated and hopefully they will get adequate and dignified treatment in Nairobi where they are headed.”
No action was reported on the other demands.
Kikonyogo Kivumbi, the author of this article, is the executive director of the Uganda Health and Science Press Association.