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Gays fleeing Uganda face attacks in refugee camp

Camp in Kenya is no safe haven for LGBTI refugees, say men who have fled again after attacks and death threats
Kakuma Refugee Camp: LGBTI man claims he and his friends faced persecution and attacks because of their sexuality.
Photo by Matija Kovac, matijakovac.com.

Gays fleeing Uganda are facing attacks and even murder in a refugee camp in Kenya.

That’s according to a group of men who contacted Gay Star News to plead for help from the international community.

They were all at the Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya – a desolate site whose name translates as ‘nowhere’ in Swahili.

When there they say they faced attack and death threats. One of their gay friends dropped dead in front of them – they believe he was poisoned.

P, a spokesman for the group, whose name is being protected for his safety, said he fled Uganda after being arrested by the police on suspicion of homosexuality in August last year.

He believes his stepmother had tipped them off.

Trouble had started when his father died. His family refused to let him speak at the funeral because of his sexuality. He stayed away from the burial, as his relatives threatened to kill him for being gay.

P, who is 28, says his stepmother wanted to take over his father’s wealth, so having failed to get him killed, got him arrested.

He managed to bribe his way out of police custody using the money he had in his wallet and fled to Kenya before he could be arrested again.

P told GSN: ‘When I crossed to Kenya I didn’t known where to run to so I went to embassies of Sweden and Norway for help but they told me to send an email. I stayed in Nairobi for almost one and a half month waiting for their response but they couldn’t respond to me that fast.

‘I was called by the head of migration in Nairobi who advised me to go to the UNHCR, and I went to the UNHCR and they took me to the camp.’

But the UN High Commission for Refugees camp in Kakuma is not safe for LGBTI people, P says.

It is home to about 130,000 men, women and children, many of whom have fled fighting in neighboring countries where homophobia is rife.

When people arrive at the camp they are interviewed by other refugees, working on behalf of the UNHCR, who therefore learn their sexuality.

‘They tell everybody in the camp and it gets so you can not even access churches because when you go into the church, you will be the subject of the sermon,’ said P.

‘If you go to the food distribution center it is a rich ground for the whisper [you are] gay. It is where people point us out and say “that one is gay”. When you get a job you are forced to leave it. I got a job in a primary school [in the camp] to teach but when I reached there I found on the notice board “gay, gay, gay”.’

There is also a belief in the camp, he says, that all Ugandan refugees are gay. Because Uganda is at peace, it is assumed your sexuality is the reason you are fleeing the country.

As a result, straight Ugandans are keen to point out those who really are LGBTI to detract from the prejudice they face.

P said: ‘There is one Ugandan who was running away from the country because of political persecution.

‘He was asking himself why I was on the run. Me being from the same tribe as the [Ugandan] president [Yoweri Museveni], he thought I was a spy. He kept telling people “I know that man is a spy”.

‘Afterwards he discovered it was because I am gay and he was saying he was going to see me dead.’

P had just been given a tent to live in by the camp officials, but it was ransacked – he believes this was also because he is gay.

He was forced to share a one-man room with three men, further exposing him to the contagious diseases common in the camp.

P told us homophobic violence is common in Kakuma.

He told us on one occasion: ‘I was working as night and the guys attacked me. Someone came around and my arm was twisted. Someone just caned me on my back.’

Luckily he was able to flee.

But another friend was not so lucky. P met a number of LGBTI people in the camp and says one of them died in December – dropping dead in front of his friends despite being previously healthy. They believe he was poisoned because of his sexuality. However, it is impossible to substantiate this.

Reporting attacks and threats does little good, he says.

He says they took incidents to the UNHCR officials but: ‘The protection officers told us to be discreet, but it wouldn’t stop the rumors. And addressing our insecurities takes a long time, it can even take two months.’

Worse still, P told us LGBTI people were warned by the police they couldn’t be protected on the basis of their sexuality, because homosexuality is illegal in Kenya.

P said police told them: ‘The Kenyan laws are very clear we don’t need such acts so we can impose Kenyan law on you.’

P and three gay male friends, all in their early to mid 30s, fled the camp to Nairobi to seek help. Three other gay men wanted to leave with them but couldn’t pay for their transport out. And he says he knows of three lesbians in the camp also facing persecution.

They fear being returned to the camp, saying there is no way they can be protected there and no services for LGBTI people.

They are now hoping to be given a safe house where they can stay while the asylum applications are processed or to be taken to a safe country while they apply.

P told us: ‘We would like to cry out to the world in case there is any interested parties to come and help us before we lose our lives.’

International LGBTI advocate and GSN contributor Omar Kuddus campaigns for asylum seekers.

He told us: ‘Living as a refugee in Kakuma is documented as a very difficult experience not least for its location and conditions, and needs addressing by the UN.

‘The situation faced by LGBTIs in such environs has for far too long been ignored and needs addressing urgently.

‘Western governments need a clear mandate and policy in regards to asylum towards LGBTIs, especially those fleeing from Nigeria and Uganda.

‘The situation is going to get worse and more and more LGBTIs fleeing from their homelands due to the introduction of the anti-gay laws. The world cannot ignore their plight.’

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