No safe place to go: the plight of Ugandan LGBT refugees

Submitted by AWL on 13 February, 2015 - 2:01 Author: Paul Penny

32 Ugandan gay men, refugees in Kenya, were arrested in Nairobi on 8 February, were held in a cell at Kabiria Satelite Police Station until being eventually releaed at 7pm on Monday 10 February, after negotiations with lawyers working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

The men were arrested at a gathering they had organised to send-off one of their friends scheduled for resettlement to a safe country, free from anti-gay persecution. Neighbours of the residence where the party took place had called the police, asking them to investigate the “suspicious” gathering of “non-citizens”.

In 2014, following the passing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 (later annulled on a technicality) many LGBT Ugandans fled to Kenya to escape violence, ill-treatment, and persecution. However, many continue to face as much hostility in Kenya, and although prosecutions are rare in Kenya, severe discrimination and anti-LGBT violence is commonplace.

Kenya is one of 35 countries across Africa that criminalizes consensual same-sex conduct, and where LGBT people face relentless persecution. In 2014, a bill was tabled by the Republican Liberty Party in the Kenyan parliament proposing that homosexual acts be punished by life imprisonment for Kenyan nationals and public stoning to death for foreigners.

Typically with little money, Ugandan LGBT refugees register with the UNCHR to wait in Kakuma refugee camp for refugee status and resettlement in a new country. But rather than being safe in Kakuma camp, many have been attacked by other refugees because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. When the other refugees in the camp discover they are Ugandan they know they must be there because they are LGBT.

In June, a Ugandan refugee was hospitalized after another refugee hurled stones and insults at him. One gay man who was attacked was told, “You gays are not supposed to be with us. We don’t want you here with us”. When he reported the attack to the police, they ignored his complaint and instead extorted money from him with threats to deport him back to Uganda if he did not pay them the money.

The hostility and homophobia in Kakuma camp has forced many LGBT refugees to leave for their own safety. Many are registered for resettlement and desperately struggling to subsist in Nairobi, many living in the Kawangware slum district.

Even in the slums, police continue to target their homes and threaten them with arbitrary arrest to extort money because they are gay. Few employers in Nairobi are willing to hire a refugee. Many have turned to prostitution to survive and share accommodation, keeping a special fund for buy off police if they are arrested.

Recognising the risks for LGBT refugees, the UNCHR said it is prioritising their cases for resettlement to safe countries.

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