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Kenya: LGBTI refugees at risk of rape and violence at Kakuma refugee camp - New Report

A view of the sprawling Kakuma camp in Kenya
© Amnesty International

Research carried out over five years highlights dangers facing LGBTI people at Kakuma camp

Report details extreme violence suffered by LGBTI residents, both as a result of their immigration status and their sexual orientation or gender identity

Perpetrators commit crimes with almost total impunity, enabled by inaction of the authorities

‘[These] hate crimes are a criminal manifestation of the discrimination LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers face’ - Victor Nyamori

LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees living in one of Kenya’s biggest refugee camps routinely suffer hate crimes, violence, including rape, and other serious human rights abuses, Amnesty International and the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) said in a joint report published today (19 May).

The 54-page report, Kenya: “Just Like Any Other Person”, details the extreme discrimination and violence suffered by LGBTI residents in Kakuma - both as a result of their status as asylum seekers or refugees and their sexual orientation, gender identity.

Kakuma camp in north-western Kenya is home to more than 200,000 asylum seekers and refugees, including hundreds of LGBTI people.

Victor Nyamori, Amnesty Kenya’s Researcher and Advisor on Refugee and Migrants Rights, said:

“LGBTI individuals in Kakuma camp have suffered physical and sexual violence and other serious human rights abuses, including violations of their right to be free from torture and ill-treatment, because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Such hate crimes are a criminal manifestation of the discrimination LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers face.”

Violence with impunity

The report, based on interviews with 41 LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees between 2018 and February this year, details how the perpetrators of violence and intimidation towards LGBTI individuals commit their crimes with almost total impunity, enabled by inaction on the part of the authorities.

Esther, a 41-year-old lesbian woman, reported being raped twice in Kakuma camp. In early 2018, she was attacked by two men carrying knives while she was showering in a plot near the camp gate. One raped her while the other held her down. Later that year, she was raped a second time by four men during a burglary at her house, in the presence of her seven-year-old son with whom she was sharing a bed.

Winnie, a lesbian woman, had a business in the market where LGBTI friends used to buy from her. She told the researchers that one day in 2019 she was away from work and left one of her children to take care of the business. A group of people destroyed her stall and injured her child, saying that the LGBTI customers were affecting other businesses. When she went to report the crime, the police told her to look for the attackers and bring them to the police station to be arrested.

Amnesty and the NGLHRC are calling on the Kenyan government to urgently ensure the physical and psychological safety of all LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees in the Kakuma refugee camp complex.

The authorities must also discuss and agree with affected individuals and the wider LGBTI community on measures to prevent and effectively respond to hate crimes and other forms of discrimination.

To ensure services are provided to LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees, authorities must amend or suspend the encampment policy and consider relocating LGBTI individuals to Nairobi or other urban areas on a temporary or permanent basis.

Amnesty and the NGLHRC are also calling on other countries to increase their pledges for resettlement and establish or enhance flexible alternative pathways for LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya, who need safety in a third country but do not qualify for traditional resettlement or other pathways.

Irungu Houghton, Executive Director of Amnesty Kenya, added:

“Despite a constitution that protects life and dignity for all, LGBTI asylum seekers suffer discrimination as well as homophobic and transphobic attitudes from Government officials, the police and other service providers.

“This is often reflected in delays to the processing of their asylum claims, harassment, violent homophobic attacks, threats, and intimidation, and extremely limited opportunities for local integration or third-country resettlement.

“The proposed new Kenya Government Marshal Plan for refugees must also address the experiences being faced by LGBTI asylum seekers.”

Njeri Gateru, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said:

“Hate crimes have a pernicious and long-lasting impact on survivors and communities and require a coherent and thorough response from policy makers, law enforcement officials and the criminal justice system.”

Sexuality criminalised

Same-sex relations are illegal in 32 out of Africa’s 54 countries and may be punishable by death or lengthy prison terms, there’s also legislation targeting LGBTI people as well as cultural and religious traditions across the region that continue to force LGBTI people to flee.

Despite same-sex acts remaining punishable by up to 14 years in prison under colonial-era laws in Kenya and LGBTI people suffering abuse in the country it is  

the only country in the East and Horn of Africa that offers asylum to people seeking protection because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression and sex characteristics and many flee to there because of its geographical proximity

Last month, a member of the Kenyan Parliament published a Family Protection Bill that seeks to further criminalise same-sex relationships, make it illegal for any service-provider to provide services to LGBTI people and require the Kenyan government to deny asylum or expel LGBTI refugees based on their sexuality or sexual orientation.

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