LGBTI REFUGEES IN KENYA: UN BLOCK REGISTRATIONS

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We do not receive much news from Africa: in recent months we focused on fights in Nigeria and Ebola outbreak, but only few people know that many other realities exist in the black continent. One of them is the discrimination of sexual minorities. This is a quite widespread problem: 37 African nations consider homosexual relationships a crime. 4 nations still allow death sentence for LGBTI people almost countrywide. Muslim countries like Nigeria are the most concerned. Only one nation in Africa assures equal opportunity at the moment: it is South Africa, although laws are not often applied there.

In recent months Nigeria, Uganda and Gambia rendered sentences towards LGBTI persons more severe. Nigeria adopted an anti-gay legislation, the “Same-Sex-Marriage Prohibition Act”, whose aim is to forbid same-sex marriages. This practice is almost unknown in the country, where homosexuality is illegal and in some religions, like Islam, is punishable by stoning. This act contains some disquieting clauses, like the one which aims to criminalize LGBTI organizations. This is exactly what Uganda is trying to do, which is raising serious concerns about the sustainability of human rights and the health promotion in the country.

The Same Sex marriage (Prohibition) Act 2013 includes the following punishments:

• up to 14 years imprisonment for anyone who enters into a same sex marriage contract or civil union. For the purposes of the Act a ‘civil union’ covers co-habiting relationships between partners of the same sex.
• up to 10 years imprisonment for anyone who witnesses or supports a same-sex wedding.
• up to 10 years imprisonment for anyone who “registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organizations”
• up to 10 years imprisonment for “direct or indirect” public displays of affection for same-sex couples.


Obviously this bill has nothing to do with same-sex marriage: in a country where homosexuality is considered a crime, a same-sex marriage would be very difficult to be contracted. This act is a denial of homosexuals’ rights.
As in Uganda, concerns about the effects of the bills have been raised several times by the activists for LGBT’s rights and the HIV prevention organizations. These provisions make it incredibly difficult for human rights defenders and organizations to protect the human rights of LGBT communities or indeed to work with them. Let us do not forget that Nigeria has the second largest population of people living with HIV in the world. Punitive legislation promotes risky behaviours, hinders access to prevention tools and treatments, and exacerbates the stigma of social inequalities that make people more vulnerable to HIV infection and illness.

Afterwards, in February 2014, Uganda approved a draconian bill, the Anti-Homosexuality Act, signed by its President Yoweri Musuveni, in order to render sentences to homosexuals more severe by condemning them to life imprisonment. The bill was proposed in 2009 by David Bahati, a member of the Ugandan Parliament, and then amended. The first version still provided for death sentence. Uganda criminalizes homosexuality on the basis of an old sodomy law introduced during colonialism, but sentences have been strengthened considerably since 1990. Section 140 of the Penal Code criminalizes “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” (Human Rights Watch’s report).

In about October 2014 the Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh, approved a new crime of “aggravated homosexuality”, punishable by life imprisonment, and added it to the Penal Code. The charge of aggravated homosexuality can concern serial offenders and HIV-positives, who are often considered to be gay and lesbian.
This criminalization of sexual activity in Gambia contravenes international law. The vague and imprecise provisions of this bill could be used inappropriately by arresting anyone considered to be gay or lesbian, which would foment hostility and feed the atmosphere of tension and fear that is already in the air among the LGBTI community.

Human Rights Watch declared that these regulations led to an increase of human rights violations, such us arrests and abuses by police as well as evictions.
After these events Amnesty International too has accused not long ago the Gambian government of having tortured citizens recently arrested, the National Intelligence Agency reports. It explains that the Presidential Guards obliged five men, one of which 17 years old, and three women to confess.

Owing to these endless persecutions, many LGBTI persons often leave rural areas for more tolerant urban areas or migrate to the neighbour countries with a more effective judicial protection.
In Uganda, although the Anti-Homosexuality Act was repealed in August 2014, the situation did not improved much, and many homosexuals go on fleeing to Kenya.
According to the Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration (ORAM), which we are cooperating with, Ugandan homosexuals take often refuge in Kenya in order to flee detention and persecution. That is the reason why they risk more sexual violence.

ORAM’s data reveal that 58 Ugandan LGBTI who fled to Kenya experienced violence and discrimination in the Kakuma refugee camp.


According to the data collected in 2012 in the Dadaab refugee camp, on the border between Kenya and Somalia, 6,000 new arrivals only from Somalia were registered. In August 2012 a total of more than 630,000 refugees and asylum seekers were registered. Among them there were many LGBTI persons, who could have experienced different forms of violence while moving, such as rape, gang rape and sexual exploitation.
Refugees who experienced sexual and gender violence are susceptible persons and need urgent and complex actions. They were subjected to physical or psychological suffering originating from displacement and violence experiences.
Not much information is available about refugees in Senegal yet. In spite of our studies, no concrete information was obtained about life quality in the camps and the needs of their occupants.

These are only some of the data that we have. We were informed that in Kenya, for instance, two kinds of refugees exist: those of urban areas, who live in Nairobi and in the neighbouring cities, and those of the Kakuma refugee camp.
The conditions are terrible for both. Recently many LGBTI persons have been singled out in the Kakuma camp because of their sexual orientation. The aggressions were committed mainly by Sudanese and Somali. The refugees report that there is no protection by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and police has been denounced because of its threats to the victims.

Besides this controversy about the lacking protection measures for LGBTI persons, there are other recent difficulties: considering the last news received about human trafficking from Uganda to Kenya, it would seem as if the UNHCR, with the pretext of the “persecution of homosexuals” has blocked consciously the registrations of asylum requests, in order to avoid to become party to the “human trafficking” and to the current despicable frauds that concern some heterosexuals masked as persecuted homosexuals.
We were told that UN was informed several times by some Ugandan guys hosted in the refuges about the increasing number of cases of homosexual persons used as a front for “human trafficking”. Many months ago the LGBTI community had complained, in good faith, about a big quantity of abusive “heterosexual” homophobes who, after their voyage from Uganda, arrived to the Nairobi and Kakuma camps to proceed to the registration imposed by UN.

Only later it was understood that the “refuge industry” requires numbers and not persons: the more people are registered, the more money go to UN. This is what especially happens when a particular existing event is depicted as a “crisis”, which, on the other hand, was the exodus of LGBTI persons towards Kenya.
We are also informed about a massive traffic of “heterosexuals” which has increased visibly in recent months: this is no more the exploit of some unscrupulous individuals trying to become part of the mechanism, but it is now a proper activity aiming to discredit those who are on the point of being classified as “economic migrants”. The last lot of 76 “false homosexuals” registered by UN about two weeks ago have declared immediately that they have been taught to tell the story of the “persecution of gay people”.

This affair is disquieting for all “genuine” LGBTI persons in Kampala, who are still persecuted, subjected to torture, violence and imprisonment, through tangible proofs which are called into question now. Registrations were closed and financial support was blocked to all Ugandans.
Some groups from Uganda tried to raise objections before giving up for a certain period.
By how much we can see, UN have laws, but remain “deaf beyond words”, because laws are not applied.

According to the last news from Kampala, Ugandan LGBTI refugees of Kakuma and Nairobi camps protested in front of the UNHCR office on Wednesday 11th March 2015 and the personnel called the police.
That is why we are appealing to UN and to those friendly international communities that share our cause so that they help us to solve this situation. LGBTI community has more than 300 asylum seekers and refugees coming from Uganda, and living in Kenya at the moment, who face serious difficulties. We ask direct support or help to all persons of good will who could assist the UNHCR and its executive agency, the HIAS, for their regular providing of services.
The lacking protection and human services provided, about which we were informed by the LGBTI migrants, as well as the long delays concerning interviews and settling, led to several struggles which menace life inside the homosexual community in Kenya at the moment. The members of this community declare with great bitterness that they do feel as if they were not listened by the UNHCR and the HIAS, which for their part ask them to be grateful for what is done for them.
“Our concerns seem so to fell on deaf ears or try to be soothed through defensive reproaches or accusation of bad conduct”, the LGBTI community says.
In Kenya this behaviour is leading the LGBTI community to lose faith in the UNHCR and in its agency, the HIAS.


The aim of this article is to make people consider this reality that is still not known much, even though it is important in terms of fundamental human rights.
Our association, International LGBTI Support, is involved in a campaign to support LGBTI refugees in Kenya and in Senegal, in order to help to stamp out the discrimination in every countries, not only in those of the European Union.
To do that, we think that it could be important to connect with other realities which are often still unknown to us.
In recent months, our partner associations, such as Uganda Gay On Move, ORAM, Pan Africa ILGA and African HCR, supported us in launching the project “safe houses” in order to build lodgings where the LGBTI community’s members can stay while waiting for their documents for asylum requests. We really hope that people will support us in this undertaking. For further information about our programmes, please contact us to: isp.uganda@hotmail.com

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Federico Rossella

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