Food shortages, violence still plague LGBTI refugees

Ugandan LGBTI refugees at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya are fighting malnutrition and homophobic violence with occasional  assistance from supporters abroad. They are seeking help through an online fund drive and advocacy.

LGBTI refugees trek to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

LGBTI refugees’ September trek from Kakuma Camp to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

In September, a group of the LGBTI Ugandans trekked several miles from the camp to the local office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to plead for protection from other refugees’ homophobic hostility and relief from the camp’s harsh conditions.

The LGBTI refugees reported that UNHCR staffers and the Refugee Affairs Secretariat had held several meetings with them and agreed to make some changes, including a new protection strategy for LGBTI refugees that would be developed in coordination with the refugees and implemented “in due time.”

Planned changes include assigning different personnel to work with the LGBTI community, adding and restoring security fences, and providing social support.

Soon after their return from those meetings, the whole camp was hit by a cutback in food distribution. On Oct. 2, the U.N.’s World Food Program announced that it was running short on funds. In response, it cut food distributions by 30 percent (according to the U.N.) or by 50 percent (according to the refugees).

Kakuma Camp food distribution site

Kakuma Camp food distribution site

A supporter in Japan set up the “Save the Newcomers in Kakuma refugee camp”  fundraising page to solicit help for the hungry LGBTI refugees at Kakuma Camp.  Supporters can also contribute by using M-Pesa, which is a form of electronic currency that is prevalent among Kenyan mobile phone users. The M-Pesa should go to +254799266789, which can be arranged through MoneyGram or World Remit.

Regarding the UNHCR promises to improve the LGBTI refugees’ living conditions, Mbazira Moses, a representative of those refugees, wrote the following statement (modestly edited here):

Greetings from all the LGBTI refugees in Kakuma refugee camp, hope this request is put in due consideration regarding to the welfare of the entire vulnerable group of LGBTI stranded in terror. On Thursday 28/09/2017 we held a meeting with the UNHCR senior protection coordinator and other staff  where we addressed demands from the entire LGBTl community. The articulated issues that were submitted, handled, discussed and presented included the following.

  1. Exposure
  2. Economic distress
  3. Host community insecurities
  4. Inappropriate medication
  5. Unskilled protection staff
  6. Physical torture
  7. Poor accommodation facility
  8. Social exclusions
  9. Notification of [status in individual resettlement] processes
  10. Long awaiting processing.

In the meeting, which was amicable, these issues were well addressed by the senior protection coordinator and others. We were told about new strategies that the UNHCR is to deploy in improving services concerned with all issues requested by the minority group.

Indeed their words of concern about the lives of each LGBTI gave courage and hope to all the vulnerable group which is at risk.

An LGBT refugee after a recent altercations with Kenyan authorities at the camp (Photo courtesy of O-blog-dee and Facebook)

An LGBTI refugee after a recent altercations with Kenyan authorities at Kakuma Camp (Photo courtesy of O-blog-dee and Facebook)

Some improvements resulted from the meeting, he said, including patrols by the protection counseling team.

“They’ve taken names and jotted concerns of members, but we are left without feedback or solutions,”  he said.

Unsolved problems include “issues like relocation or fencing protection, medical outreach improvements, hostilities from the native persons and the great food insecurity.”

“The situation is worsening day by day. Insecurities have become rampant and bloodshed is increasing, diseases are weakening us, attacks and misery can’t only be suppressed by mere counseling without effective backup .”

U.K.-based LGBTI rights activist Stephen Lovatt pleaded for action in a letter to the head of the UNHCR:

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Dear Dr. Grandi,

Stephen Lovatt speaks on the latest No Strings podcast.

Stephen Lovatt (Photo courtesy of

I am writing to you on behalf of the Ugandan LGBTI asylum seekers who are presently refugees in Kenya. I have come to know a number of them via FaceBook and am very troubled by the tragic stories they tell me. I realise that the UNHCR is limited in what it can do by local politics; but this is precisely why these individuals are in particular and desperate need.

They are, in effect, stateless. They are formally nationals of a state (Uganda) which specifically repudiates them because of their sexuality: unjustly denying them their inalienable rights as human beings. They are residents of a foreign country which has almost as hostile an attitude towards them: whose police force regularly assaults them, takes them hostage for purposes of extortion, and generally oppresses them.

Very few NGOs are willing to have any involvement with them, for fear of this impacting on their relations with the government of Kenya. The Churches, to which many of them belong, repudiate them as “intrinsically disordered”, “possessed by demons” or similar (I write as a practising Catholic) and are complicit in – or even enthusiastically promote – their persecution and murder.

Their only hope of a passably decent life is to obtain asylum in some western country, where being LGBTI is not illegal and even, perhaps, respected; but this outcome is becoming ever more difficult for them to obtain.

While they wait – interminably, and with increasing desperation – for their asylum applications to be processed, their only succour is provided by the UNHCR; but even that is hugely compromised by the uniqueness of their situation. They are supposed to reside in the Kakuma camp, yet this option is profoundly inappropriate. Quite apart from the inadequate shelter, sanitation, food supply and medical treatment available there – sadly, these issues are common to all refugees – they routinely face murderous hostility from the other refugees resident there, and can expect no help from the police. They cannot seek safety in anonymity within the camp because they are readily recognisable by the other refugees as Ugandans, and it is well known that the only reason a Ugandan becomes a refugee in Kenya is that they are LGBTI.

Worst of all, it seems that sometimes UNHCR staff are unsympathetic to the plight of these poor folk. When I write to local officials on behalf of any of the refugees I know, I am generally ignored – or else receive a cursory response to the effect that the case is confidential, which is irrelevant as I never ask for information, but only ever implore that the UNHCR helps the person in question. On occasion some of the LGBTI refugees have taken to demonstrate peacefully outside the UNHCR office in Nairobi in an attempt to attract attention and to implore assistance; but they were ignored, Kenyan police were called to arrest them, and a Kenyan judge imprisoned them for supposedly disorderly behaviour.

The Ugandan LGBTI asylum seekers desperately need some kind of special status and dedicated care, and I implore you to provide this for them in whatever way is practicable.

Yours sincerely,
Stephen C Lovatt
PhD PGCE MA(Cantab)

Tayyar Sukru Cansizoglu, the head of the UNHCR sub-office in Kakuma, responded:

Dear Mr. Lovatt,

Tayyar Sukru Cansizoglu (Photo courtesy of UNHCR)

Tayyar Sukru Cansizoglu (Photo courtesy of UNHCR)

I write to acknowledge receipt of your email below addressed to High Commissioner Grandi and respond as hereafter.

Thank you for sharing with us the concerns that the LGBTI asylum seekers from Uganda have expressed to you. Please be assured that UNHCR is fully engaged with the LGBTI community (both refugees and asylum seekers) in Kenya, and in particular Kakuma, where the majority reside, on account of the Government’s encampment policy and requirement that asylum applications are processed in the camp.

Cognizant of the particular challenges that members of the LGBTI community face in the operational context (as you have noted in your message), UNHCR is committed to continued concerted engagement regarding the processing of pending asylum applications by the Government (there is a significant backlog of asylum applications across the board), a more favourable protection environment in the country of asylum, and the search for eventual long-term solutions, including possible third country resettlement.

In the immediate term, we are taking measures to improve the protection environment for the LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers resident in Kakuma, including regular meetings with the community (with the participation of UNHCR’s Senior Protection Coordinator) to ensure consistent communication and review of needs, daily UNHCR staff presence in the protected area where the community resides, sensitization of UNHCR staff and security personnel on LGBTI issues, and facilitation of meetings with Government Officials and other humanitarian agencies. We are also renovating the protected area where the community resides, towards improving shelter and sanitation conditions.

In recent engagements with the LGBTI community, the foregoing efforts have been positively received, although the community remains understandably concerned about the pace of the asylum application process and the challenging living environment in Kakuma. You will appreciate that each individual in the community has a specific profile, concerns and needs, necessitating both group and individual interventions, which are ongoing, including considerations regarding the option of third country resettlement. Resettlement, as you may be aware, is a very limited option, with quotas and admission criteria are determined by the receiving countries. We do, however, continue to advocate for increased resettlement opportunities across the board.

Thank you again for your email and expression of support to persons of concern to UNHCR.

Best regards,


Tayyar Sukru Cansizoglu
UNHCR Head of Sub-Office
Kakuma, Kenya

Melanie Nathan, executive director of the U.S-based African Human Rights Coalition, advised the Ugandan LGBTI refugees at Kakuma Camp and their supporters:

Melanie Nathan (Photo courtesy of Pride Shelter Trust)

Melanie Nathan (Photo courtesy of Pride Shelter Trust)

Advocacy efforts should focus on reaching out to your own governments — Australia, Europe, Canada and even useless Trump USA — explaining the plight and special needs of LGBT so more dossiers move. …

Activists should help reach out to the community abroad to help refugees with better food and look at developing small sustainable industries / lifestyle in the camp to improve education and living boredom. Straight refugees are already doing this. UNHCR has hardly any money and, yes, keep asking for services till they improve. Library books! Artisan materials! There are ideas. But it’s hard if you hungry and uncomfortable and so that must improve.

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2 thoughts on “Food shortages, violence still plague LGBTI refugees

  1. Pingback: AIUTIAMO I RIFUGIATI LGBTI A KAKUMA « Support Uganda

  2. Pingback: Kakuma refugees gain supporters, need more help | 76 CRIMES

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