Dozens of African LGBT+ refugees in northwestern Kenya’s sprawling Kakuma refugee camp pleaded on Thursday with the United Nations to relocate them to a safer place, saying they had suffered violent attacks.
More than 40 LGBT+ refugees from countries including Uganda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo said they were targeted in two homophobic attacks, by other refugees in the last three weeks.
Fifteen people were injured in the December 21 and January 7 incidences, and some taken to hospital with wounds to the head and internal bleeding, they said.
The Thomson Reuters Foundation was given photographs of people with bleeding wounds on their heads and scars on their limbs, but could not immediately verify the pictures.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said there had been some incidents of vandalism in the camp, but there was no evidence that LGBT+ refugees were specifically targeted.
“They came in large numbers – much more than us. They beat us with sticks and rods, kicked and punched us and told us to leave. They destroyed our shelters,” said Andrew, a 23-year-old gay man from Uganda, who did not want to give his real name.
“We cannot go back to the shelters inside the camp. The other refugees know who we are and will kill us. We ask the UN to give us shelter and protection somewhere else – but they are ignoring us.”
The refugees have been staying outside the UNHCR reception centre in Kakuma, since the first attack on December 21, he said by phone from the camp in Kenya’s remote Turkana county.
The UNHCR’s regional spokesperson, Dana Hughes, said there was no reason to relocate the refugees.
“Incidents of shelter vandalism were reported to law enforcement authorities in December, however these attacks were found to be attributed to common petty criminality and were not targeted at any particular individuals,” said Hughes.
The allegation that LGBT+ refugees were attacked on January 7 had not been substantiated, she said.
“Security reports from law enforcement indicated that there was no attack/assault at the venue.”
It is not the first time LGBT+ refugees have faced physical violence in Kakuma, a vast camp that is home to more than 180,000 refugees.
In December 2018, the UNHCR relocated about 200 LGBT+ refugees from the camp to Nairobi, as an emergency measure, after a spate of violent attacks against them.
But Kenya requires most refugees to stay in designated camps, and 75 of them were returned to Kakuma in June.
African countries have some of the most prohibitive laws against homosexuality in the world, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.
Although gay sex is punishable with up to 14 years in jail in Kenya, the law is rarely enforced. The east African nation is seen as more tolerant than neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania, though discrimination against the LGBT+ community is prevalent.
Gay rights groups say the camps are not safe for LGBT+ refugees, and are calling on Kenya to allow them to live in urban areas.
“These persons were relocated out of this camp due to such violence last year, only to be forced to return to this dangerous and volatile situation,” said a statement from Refugee Coalition of East Africa.
“Claims that these attacks do not specifically target LGBTQI refugees are unfounded and patently untrue.”
-Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla – Thomson Reuters Foundation