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Report details anti-LGBTQ discrimination, violence in Kenya refugee camp

March 15 attack left gay man dead

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Ugandan refugees, gay news, Washington Blade
The Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya (Photo by the E.U. Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations via Flickr)

A new report released on Wednesday indicates nearly all of the LGBTQ people who live in a Kenya refugee camp have experienced discrimination and violence because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

The Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration and Rainbow Railroad in May 2021 surveyed 58 LGBTQ asylum seekers who live at the Kakuma refugee camp and the Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement that opened in 2016 to help alleviate overcrowding at Kakuma. The groups also interviewed 18 “key informants.”

More than 90 percent of the LGBTQ asylum seekers who spoke with ORAM and Rainbow Railroad said they have been “verbally assaulted.”

Eighty-three percent of them indicated they suffered “physical violence,” with 26 percent of them reporting sexual assault. All of the transgender respondents “reported having experienced physical assault,” with 67 percent of them “reporting sexual assault.”

Eighty-eight percent of respondents said they had been “denied police assistance due to their sexual identity.” Nearly half of the respondents told ORAM and Rainbow Railroad they had to be “relocated from their allocated shelters to alternative accommodation due to the constant abuses directed at them by neighbors.”

Kakuma, which is located in northwest Kenya near the country’s border with Uganda and South Sudan, is one of two refugee camps the U.N. Refugee Agency operates in the East African nation. The other, Dadaab, is located near Kenya’s border with Somalia.

The report notes upwards of 160,000 refugees from South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Ethiopia and Uganda were living in Kakuma as of January.

Those who responded to the ORAM and Rainbow Railroad survey are from Uganda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Yemen and Ethiopia and all of them have asked for asylum in Kenya. Ninety-four percent of them live in Kakuma, while the remaining six percent live in Kalobeyei.

The report also estimates there are 350 LGBTQ asylum seekers in Kakuma and Kalobeyei. UNHCR in 2020 created Block 13 in Kakuma that is specifically for LGBTQ refugees.

Gay man died after Block 13 attack

Two gay men suffered second-degree burns during an attack on Block 13 on March 15. One of the men died a few weeks later at a hospital in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

Forty-one of the Block 13 residents who participated in the ORAM and Rainbow Railroad survey said that “relocation to a safer place as a priority.” The report also notes some respondents who live outside Block 13 “said that the activism in Block 13 was affecting the overall relationship between LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and service providers in the camp.”

“They expressed concern with some activities conducted as part of their activism,” reads the report. “For example, they alleged that some activists were conducting staged attacks on individuals and false claims of violence to attract media attention as part of their advocacy.”

The report notes “allegations of activity from activists in Block 13 have not been confirmed.” Some of the “key informants” who ORAM and Rainbow Railroad interviewed for their report, however, “observed that LGBTQI+ activists from different countries have been supporting the advocacy in Block 13 without considering the local context and potential negative or unintended consequences.”

“They allege that the advocacy has been antagonizing LGBTQI+ members with other refugees in the camp and service providers,” reads the report. “For example, some of the LGBTQI+ asylum seekers were reported to have deserted their allocated shelters, moved to Block 13 and were persistently demanding new shelters.”

An attack at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya on March 15, 2021, left two gay refugees with second-degree burns. One of these men later died. (Photo courtesy of Gilbert Kagarura)

UNHCR in a statement after the March 15 attack noted Kenya “remains the only country in the region to provide asylum to those fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression,” even though consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized. The ORAM and Rainbow Railroad report acknowledges both points.

“Asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya are not immune to pervasive anti-LGBTQI+ attitudes in the community,” it reads. “As the number of LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and refugees increases rapidly, it is important to understand their unique protection needs and plan for safe and dignified service delivery to meet those needs.”

The report notes more than 70 percent of respondents have gone to Kakuma’s main hospital the International Rescue Committee operates in order to receive HIV/AIDS-related services. More than 85 percent of respondents said they “preferred to seek all other health services beyond HIV and AIDS services at the main hospital, since the facility was friendly and provided a stigma-free environment for the LGBTQI+ community in the camp.”

“Respondents reported traveling long distances in order to visit the main hospital,” reads the report.

The report notes limited access to cardiologists and other specialists at the eight health facilities in the camp that UNHCR partner organizations operates. Roughly a third of respondents also said they have “been stigmatized in some of the health clinics.”

“This included being referred to as shoga (a derogatory Kiswahili term used to refer to homosexuality) either by staff members or other refugees in the waiting room while waiting to see a provider, or some providers just directing them to the main hospital with snide remarks about how they do not entertain LGBTQI+ persons in their facility,” reads the report.

The African Human Rights Coalition, the Refugee Coalition of East Africa and Upper Rift Minorities are among the other groups that work with the camp’s LGBTQ residents.

The report notes only a third of respondents “were actively engaged in economic activity at the time of the study, a majority depended on the food rations distributed in the camp.” It also contains 10 recommendations, which are below, to improve conditions for LGBTQ refugees in Kakuma.

1) The Refugee Affairs Secretariat of Kenya must fast-track refugee status determination of LGBTQ asylum seekers with further support from UNHCR and civil society organizations.

2) The Refugee Affairs Secretariat of Kenya and UNHCR must create more responsive and sensitive protection services for LGBTQ refugees in Kenya.

3) Civil society organizations and their supporters should provide livelihood support and other support to meet the immediate needs of LGBTQ refugees in Kakuma.

4) Governments of resettlement countries must resume and fast track resettlement of LGBTQ refugees from Kenya.

5) UNHCR and civil society organizations must continue to build skills development programs for employability.

6) LGBTQ civil society organizations should work more closely with refugee-led organizations and collectives to build self-protection services.

7) Donor communities should participate in more long-term development programming for LGBTQI+ refugees in Kenya.

8) LGBTQ civil society organizations providing support to refugees in Kenya must coordinate more closely.

9) LGBTQ civil society organizations and refugee-led organizations should continue to advocate for more inclusive human rights in Kenya.

10) Civil society must continue the push for LGBTQ human rights globally, including decriminalization of same sex intimacy.

“This much-needed report underscores the challenges, dangers and complexities of life that LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers face in Kakuma refugee camp,” said ORAM Executive Director Steve Roth in a press release that announced the report’s release. “The refugees themselves have spoken and they want to be heard. UNHCR, governments and civil society organizations must work together to ensure the immediate safety and well-being of this community while also addressing the longer term, durable solutions we recommend in the report.”

Rainbow Railroad Executive Director Kimahli Powell added refugee camps cannot “become permanent solutions to crises of forced displacement.”

“The findings of this report confirm a key goal of Rainbow Railroad—to fast track resettlement of LGBTQI+ refugees,” he said. “Rainbow Railroad and civil society partners are ready to provide support to LGBTQI+ persons at risk and assist in further resettlement. Ultimately, we need the UNHCR, the government of Kenya and governments of countries that are destinations for refugees to step up an ensure that LGBTQI+ asylum seekers in the camp are resettled in safer countries.”

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Europe

Poland LGBTQ ‘Free Zones’ tossed, UK ranking drops, Pussy Riot singer escapes

Maria Alyokhina fled Russia disguised as a food delivery driver

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Sopot (Poland) Vice Mayor Magdalena Czarzyńska-Jachim, right, and LGBTQ marchers (Photo courtesy of Magdalena Czarzyńska-Jachim)

LGBTQ news from Europe this past week saw a major development in Poland after a court annulled actions taken previously to declare ‘LGBT Free Zones’ by provincial governments.

Large parts of Poland were labelled “LGBT-free zones,” where regional governments declared they were against LGBTQ ideology. Last fall the executive branch of the European Union, the European Commission, sent letters out last week to the governors of five of Poland’s voivodeships, (provinces) warning that pandemic relief funds totaling over 126 million euros ($150 million) will be withheld over anti-LGBTQ measures passed in their jurisdictions.

Poland has seen a resurgence in the past three years of rightwing religious ultra-conservative groups backed by nationalistic extremists in this heavily Catholic country of 38 million, which have led to passage of measures to restrict pride parades and other LGBTQ-friendly events from taking place.

Proponents of these measures claim the necessity of the provinces to be “free of LGBTQ ideology” saying this is mandated by average Poles as well as by the anti-LGBTQ views of the Catholic Church.

The majority of Polish people support LGBTQ rights surrounding marriage and family, according to research by Miłość Nie Wyklucza (Love Does Not Exclude.) 

The survey found 56 percent of respondents believe same-sex marriage should be legal to ensure the safety of their children. Even more, 65 percent, said they felt “a biological parent raising a child with a same-sex partner” fits the definition of family. And 58 percent of people said a same-sex couple is a family even without children. 

Lublin Regional Assembly passed a resolution in April 2019 declaring that LGBTQ rights aim to “annihilate” the “values shaped by the Catholic Church” PinkNewsUK reported.

In the same month, Ryki County, a district in Lublin, passed a resolution voting to protect “children, young people, families and Polish schools” from an apparent wave of “homoterror” being unleashed by “left-liberal groups.”

PinkNewsUK also reported that the Provincial Administrative Court in Lublin found the resolutions were “adopted without legal basis and in gross violation of the law” after a legal challenge by the Polish Ombudsman.

They become the eighth and ninth “LGBT-free zones” voided by the courts following interventions by the Polish Ombudsman. Municipal councils in Istebna, Klwów, Serniki, Osiek, Lipinki, Niebylec and the Tarnowski County Council all scrapped such measures in 2019.

This past June, the leaders of 17 European Union countries had signed a letter that urges the EU to fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The EU has also called out the anti-LGBTQ measures taken more recently in Hungary.

ILGA-Europe, a Brussels based advocacy group promoting the interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people, at the European level, in a statement it sent to the Blade in June after the EU letter was issued, notes that both Hungary and Poland, another EU country in which lawmakers have sought to restrict LGBTQ rights in recent years are at odds with the EU position on LGBTQ+ people.

“For quite some time now, we’ve been informing EU ministers about systematic breaches of EU law committed by Hungary and Poland, which impact on LGBTI rights and the lives of LGBTI people,” says ILGA-Europe.

The UK has dropped to 14th in the ILGA-Europe’s rankings for LGBTQ rights, scoring 53 out of a possible 100

ILGA-Europe, which produces a yearly “rainbow map” of 49 countries across Europe, revealed this past week that the United Kingdom had the most significant drop in ranking for LGBTQ equality rights this past year falling from 10th to 14th place.

Leading contributors to the loss in ranking and standing on the ILGA annual listing was due in part to the ongoing battles over transgender rights with a failure by the Tory-led government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson to set gender recognition policies especially in regard to a total ban on LGBTQ conversion therapy.

ILGA-Europe’s advocacy director, Katrin Hugendubel, described the UK’s plunging status to The Guardian newspaper as “a sad reminder that when governments don’t stand strong on their commitments to advance minority rights, a powerful opposition can use that space to spread hate and division”.

The chief executive of Stonewall UK, Nancy Kelley, warned that “years of progress on LGBTQ+ policy that was achieved under successive administrations has been rapidly eroded by a UK government that has taken its foot off the pedal”.

The ILGA highlighted the UK government’s failure to extend a ban on conversion practices to transgender people, as well as abandonment of promised reforms on gender recognition and its equality action plan. It added that the UK also lost points because the government’s equalities watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), was “not … effectively protecting on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity” the Guardian reported.

Kelley called on the prime minister to “step back into the game” as a leader in protecting and promoting LGBTQ rights.

“As we approach the 50th anniversary of the first Pride in the UK, we call for his active leadership to rebuild our human rights institutions and to deliver a strategic policy programme that enables all LGBTQ+ people in the UK to live their lives in freedom and safety.”

Maria Alyokhina of Pussy Riot escaped from Russia disguised as a food delivery worker

In what could be best described as a story worthy of a Cold-War era spy novel, the leader of the Russian activist band Pussy Riot fled Russia disguised as a food-delivery worker. Maria V. Alyokhina in an interview with the New York Times that she was able to get to her girlfriend’s home in Vilnius, Lithuania, after evading Russian Federal Security Services agents.

The queer singer-songwriter musician and human rights activist who was on house arrest at the time of her escape was set to be transferred to a penal colony in the Russian Far East after being arrested six times in the past year protesting the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin and more recently his order for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

According to the account in the New York Times, Alyokhina left her apartment in the food-delivery worker disguise, and an unnamed friend drove her to the Belarusian border. The problem then became exiting from Belarus to Lithuania as she was turned away at the border twice by Lithuanian border agents.

The Times reported that Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson eventually helped Alyokhina acquire the necessary travel documents from an unnamed country that in turn assisted her entering into Lithuania, where many Pussy Riot members had already escaped to, including Alyokhina’s girlfriend, Lucy Shtein.

The band has now kicked off their European tour in Berlin.

Pussy Riot concert with activist after escape from Russia

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Russia

Russia extends Brittney Griner detention for another month

WNBA star taken into custody at Moscow airport in February

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Brittney Griner (Photo by Lorie Shaull, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

A Russian court on Friday extended WNBA star Brittney Griner’s detention for another month.

Griner — a center for the Phoenix Mercury and a two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife — was taken into custody at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February. Russian officials said customs inspectors found hashish oil in her luggage.

Griner is among the WNBA players who play in Russia during the league’s off-season.

The State Department earlier this month determined Russia “wrongfully detained” Griner. The National Black Justice Coalition is among the groups that have also criticized Russia over Griner’s detention.

Griner on Friday appeared in court in the Moscow suburb of Khimki. Griner’s lawyer, Alexander Boikov, told the Associated Press that her trial could begin soon.

Griner faces up to 10 years in prison.

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Europe

Greek lawmakers ban conversion therapy for minors

Bill passed in country’s Parliament on Wednesday

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Greek parliament building (Photo by katatonia82 via Bigstockphoto)

Greek lawmakers on Wednesday approved a bill that will ban so-called conversion therapy for minors.

Media reports note mental health providers will face fines and prison if they subject a minor to conversion therapy without their consent. The bill will also ban the advertisement of conversion therapy in the country.

“There were some false treatments that stated that when a minor has chosen a different sexual orientation, his parents could supposedly proceed with ‘treatments’ for this child to ‘return to normality'”, Health Minister Thanos Plevris said before the vote, according to Reuters. “Obviously these treatments not only are not a therapy but they are not supported scientifically.”

Laws that ban conversion therapy have taken effect in New Zealand, France and Canada in recent months.

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