The lonely life of an LGBT Ugandan refugee in Kenya

Street scene in Eastleigh, a suburb of Nairobi with a large Somali population. (Martin Mukangu photo courtesy of the Daily Nation)

Street scene in Eastleigh, a suburb of Nairobi. (Martin Mukangu photo courtesy of the Daily Nation)

In Kenya, LGBT Ugandan refugees turn to each other for support and companionship, but some are abandoned to a life of solitary struggles. Here is one such LGBT refugee’s story, which she told to Simon Kwesigabo, a fellow refugee who has been resettled in the United States.

By Simon Kwesigabo

Juliana (Photo courtesy of Simon Kwesigabo)

Juliana (Photo courtesy of Simon Kwesigabo)

I am Juliana (a pseudonym), a gay man currently living in Eastleigh, a suburb of Nairobi city. I call myself “she,” but I’m not a transgender woman.

I fled from the homophobia in Gayaza in south-central Uganda in August 2016.

The whole community knew I was gay.  I needed to leave Uganda after my family chased me out of my home because I am gay. My uncles beat me up and broke my ribs.

I came to Kenya alone, but it turned out that I had a few friends here. I just bumped into them in Nairobi without having known that they were around.

In fact, I happen to have met more people like me than I had before in Uganda. They began to feel like family to me, since I had no one else to turn to, and no one could understand me like people of my same sexual orientation.

Luckily on the day I arrived I met a friend of mine whom I’ll call James. I had known James back in Uganda. He also was a refugee and he had arrived in Kenya before I did. He helped me a lot.

I went to the UNHCR [the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees]. I needed a place to sleep, but I couldn’t sleep there. However,  I was promised I would get some assistance after a few days that could help me live in Kenya.

James introduced me to Frederick and asked him to help me. He did, because I knew James and had just arrived in Nairobi. Frederick even assisted me in getting shelter for that night.

A few days later, I went back to the UNHCR and I was directed to go to another agency [the refugee support organization HIAS] that could help  get assistance for me. [HIAS, formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, was founded in the late 19th Century to work with Jewish emigrants from Imperial Russia and, since then, has helped to resettle nearly 4.5 million people of many faiths and ethnicities worldwide.]

HIAS logo

HIAS logo

With help from Frederick, I was taken to the HIAS offices and was given assistance. Now I had to start living in the community like other refugees from Uganda. I was advised to team up with a fellow LGBTIQ since life in Nairobi would be hard for me to afford on my own. [A typical monthly support payment from HIAS is the equivalent of US $60.]

A few months after I arrived there, my friend James was scheduled to have his United States security interviews, his medical examination and his cultural orientation. Soon he had a date for his travel to the USA. I was miserable when I realized that James was leaving me, but he promised to stand by me even after he arrived in the U.S.

The day before he left, he introduced me to Frank, another friend of his. The next morning Frank and I escorted James to the offices of IOM [the International Organization for Migration].  We then went back home. Frank was to start staying with me and I was OK with that.

As the months passed, James did what he had promised. He helped us raise money for rent and at times sent us money to buy food, since Frank and I together didn’t receive enough to pay for that. James, Frank and I communicated on Facebook and WhatsApp.

But one morning Frank and I woke up to the surprise of our lives: James  had blocked both of us, cutting off our only means of communication. James had sent us each one last message, saying that we should struggle now on our own. He said that he had to cater for his own needs now that he had reached his final destination. He said he was sorry.

Logo of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Logo of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Nothing was left for us both but to go on with life. As James said, both of us now had to carry our own crosses. We have to struggle on as best we can until we find ourselves in a safer place to stay.

Personally, I have had my first interviews with UNHCR and am awaiting a decision from Kenyan officials on whether I will be officially accepted as a refugee. After that, I shall proceed to a foreign embassy, apply for asylum, and hope for resettlement.

Frank is farther along in the process. He is awaiting his security interviews at the United States embassy. In a few months, he hopes to travel to his new home. 

When he does, I will struggle on alone.

My philosophy is that I arrived here alone and I’ll end up alone. That’s how it always ends.

The author of this article, Simon Kwesigabo, is a Ugandan refugee who  recently relocated from Kenya to the United States.

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2 thoughts on “The lonely life of an LGBT Ugandan refugee in Kenya

  1. Pingback: Kenya arrests LGBTI refugees, sends them into danger | 76 CRIMES

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