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Support lesbians living in dire conditions at the Kenyan UN Kakuma refugee camp

Life in Kakuma and Our Campaign

Saturday 5 March 2022, by siawi3


March 4, 2022

Support lesbians living in dire conditions at the Kenyan UN Kakuma refugee camp

by Seattle Kakuma Support Group

Dear sisters!

There is a sub-committee of our group that has been working to support lesbians living in dire conditions at the Kenyan UN Kakuma refugee camp, One of our projects has been to support an e-mail campaign on International Women’s Day, March 8. You can help by copying and emailing the 2nd letter below to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to the addresses provided.

We’ve included in this email a letter we are sending to women’s, lesbian and queer organizations to tell them about conditions in the camp and ask for support for the LGBTQI refugees in Kakuma. Feel free to share any of this with members of your community.

To Your Group: Life in Kakuma and Our Campaign

We are writing to you because we know that women’s and lesbian lives and safety are as important to you as they are to us. We are a group of lesbian activists working to forge international connections for peace and justice. In our work we have met a powerful group of LGBTQI folks living in the Kakuma refugee camp in the Turkana County of northwest Kenya. Kakuma Camp has a special unit, Block 13, where all the LGBTQI refugees are placed . There are 26 lesbians living there now, 17 of their children and about 10 other LGBTQI folks.

While this has allowed them to make important and supportive connections, it has also placed them in danger by making them easy targets for homophobic violence. They are a small minority in the camp population that reached 180,000 in 2021.

Two gay men were set afire, killing one and maiming the other. More than once Block 13 has been fire bombed, and lesbians regularly face rape and other violent attacks. Because of these assaults, they cannot leave their residences after dark, and there is little help available, either in preventing violence or accessing medical treatment after these aggressions. Our LGBTI relatives are trapped: they must face the daily uncertainties, violence and inability to work and gain resources and have no way out. The UNHCR has not processed Block 13 residents refugee status - for years for some of them- much longer than the usual time frame for refugees. Nor have they been allowed passes to be able to move outside of the camp in Kenya. They are absolutely stuck with no relief in sight. This is an untenable situation and a human rights disaster.

Recently, the small amounts of water and food that were accessible at the camp reception has been stopped as well as providing the basic essential of rice. The LGBTI refugees of Kakuma are worried that without refugee status, they will have no resources of where to go or what they can do.

The LGBTQI refugees of Kakuma are working to get out. They have attempted to contact the UNHCR seeking protection and refugee status in order to relocate to permanent homes in safer countries. They have received no response, and lesbians in the camp have asked us to approach women’s as well as LGBTQI organizations around the world to start a letter writing campaign demanding action from the UNHCR.

This is what we are asking of you right now:

❖ Email on March 8 to the UNHCR as an organization, demanding that attention be paid to this vulnerable population who are being attacked based on their Queer identities. We are including the letter we wrote as an example.

❖ Ask your membership to email the UNHCR as well, in hopes that a large number of letters will draw attention to this important issue.

This is what we are asking of you for the future:

❖ Educate yourself about the situation in Block 13 of Kakuma Camp.

Here’s a few info links.

ORAM Kakuma Report ( see below)

Morningstaronline Report UK

Amnesty International Kakuma Report ( see below)

❖ Contact your members of Congress to demand accountability from the UNHCR concerning the lives of LGBTQ refugees and if they are not satisfied let them call for the defunding of UNHCR

Donate whatever you can for food and supplies for those living in Block 13 and to help them relocate to a safer place

Through paypal send to : Tgianoulis
Send check to:
Dorothy Jo Lower
1804 Lake Washington Blvd S
Seattle, WA 98144

Please pass this on to any other groups you may know that would support the LGBTQI people of Kakuma.

Thank you for this and for all the work you do!

Seattle Kakuma Support Group - Tina Gianoulis Sue Hodes Janice Gutman Jan Denali & DJ Lower



As concerned world citizens, we are writing to bring to your urgent attention the dire situation of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and other Queer refugees currently living in Block 13 of the Kakuma refugee camp in the Turkana County of northwest Kenya. These courageous people have left their homes and families in their countries such as Uganda and Burundi because they faced violence, even death, and certainly no opportunities to live fulfilling lives. Homophobic attitudes and laws making their very identities illegitimate. In Kakuma camp, which has an enormous population - over 180,000 people in 2021 - they have been placed together in Block 13, which has been designated as a space for queer community members. This has been fortunate in one way, as they have been able to find each other, share resources, and offer support, but in another way it has made it easier for them to be targets of homophobic violence at the hands of other camp residents.

This situation cries out for intervention from the UNHCR. Isolated and marginalized, terrified to leave their quarters at night for fear of attacks, the LGBTI residents of Kakuma have been raped, beaten, and set on fire, sometimes with deadly results. Out of desperation some LGBTQI asylum seekers have attempted suicide. In mid-August 2021, a fire destroyed the shelters and meager possessions of the residents of Block 13. Instead of offering support and protection, camp authorities blamed LGBTQI residents for the fire and arrested several. Medical care is often cursory or unavailable. At this date, many of the group are spending nights sleeping outside the compound since it is safer no matter what the weather. And there they are threatened by homophobic men from the camp as they sleep. Lesbians are particular targets of rape and have virtually no access to legal recourse or medical treatment. Many have children that they cooperate to protect. A major worry is the fate of their children if they are killed.

No one could deny that this is an inhumane and potentially disastrous situation. These LGBTQI survivors need immediate help to be relocated to a safe location and prioritized for refugee status and asylum. As concerned citizens, we strongly urge that the UNHCR take a leadership role in safeguarding this most vulnerable population from the daily suffering they are enduring. The simple fact of their survival in these horrifying conditions is a testimony to a strength and sense of community that would be an asset to any society in which they might be relocated.

According to The Statute of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the “essential function of the UNHCR is to provide international protection to refugees and to seek durable solutions to their problems by facilitating either their voluntary repatriation or their integration into new national communities in safe and with dignity.”

❖ We demand that the UNHCR insist that the Kenyan government fast track meaningful asylum (REFUGEE STATUS DETERMINATION) to all LGBTQI asylum seekers around Kakuma and wherever they are in Kenya.

❖ We demand that you give your protection for all LGBTQI refugees to transit safely from Kakuma Camp to Nairobi and to be protected for the duration of their stay in Kenya.

❖ We demand the UNHCR immediately offer physical protection to the LGBTQI+ refugees and asylum seekers in block 13 and all over Kakuma camp because they all face homophobia and violence.

❖ We demand the UNHCR clarify whether their intent is to close this camp and if so work with all camp residents to find a satisfactory new residence.

❖ We demand that UNHCR resume the food and water supplies that were being provided but have now been ended including resupplying rice to residents.

❖ We demand the UNHCR immediately stop the attacks and mis-characterizing of the LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and refugees under their care and instead perform their mandate to give them protection from the hostile community.

❖ We demand that Kakuma be labeled a hostile environment to LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers and that the UNHCR evacuate LGBTQI+ asylum seekers and refugees to a mutually agreed upon safer place to stop further harm and loss of lives.

We beg you not to ignore this letter, but to act for justice and human rights in the name of

the citizens of the world.


Where to send this UNHCR letter:



Index: AFR 01/5007/2021
69th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Agenda Item 5(vi): Activity Report of the Special Rapporteur on Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Internally Displaced Persons and Migrants in Africa
Honourable Chairperson,

Amnesty International welcomes this opportunity to address the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission). This statement highlights the challenges of LGBTI refugees in Kenya, especially those in the Kakuma refugee camp.

Amnesty International has monitored the situation of LGBTI refugees in Kenya since 2018. Our latest work on this issue involved a September 2021 research visit to Kakuma refugee camp where, together with the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, we interviewed over 41 LGBTI refugees.
Whilst Kenya is the only country in the East and Horn of Africa that has been receptive to individuals who claim asylum based on their real or perceived gender identity or sexual orientation, cultural stereotypes about sexual orientation and gender identity are compounded by the fact that consensual same sex acts are still criminalized. As a result, LGBTI refugees in Kenya still encounter multidimensional challenges like harassment, discrimination, violence perpetrated by government officials, other refugees and the host community.

In Kakuma refugee camp, LGBTI refugees are victims of violence, harassment and intolerance from the local population. They have had their shelters vandalized and sometimes burned down by unknown people at night. In late March 2021, unknown people threw a petrol bomb at an LGBTI refugees’ house. Two LGBTI refugees experienced 2nd degree burns on about 50% of their bodies. The two were evacuated from the Kakuma refugee camp for specialized medical attention in Nairobi. Unfortunately, one of the victims, Chriton Atuhwera, died on 12 April.

While LGBTI refugees have been active in reporting homophobic attacks to the Kenya security officials in the camp, there has been little or no state action. No perpetrator has been arrested and charged in a court of law even in instances where the LGBTI refugees are able to point out specific perpetrators.
Delayed refugee status determination (RSD) process has made it difficult for LGBTI asylum seekers to access benefits that accrue to refugees, including access to education and consideration for resettlement.

LGBTI activists who have been vocal in expressing concerns from the LGBTI community have faced threats and intimidation and their life are threatened. Security officials often term them as “attention seekers” and threaten them with deportation back to their countries of origin. Some LGBTI activists have also been arbitrarily arrested and detained by the security officials in the camp.
The government department dealing with refugees has also made decisions that limit access to asylum for LGBTI refugees. According to a notice seen by Amnesty International, in December 2018, the Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS) had temporarily stopped registration for new arrivals who claim asylum because of their sexual orientation and gender identity and referred those seeking assistance to UNHCR offices. However, UNHCR was not offering registration services to refugees. Registration to all other refugees in Kakuma, Dadaab and Nairobi has also been intermittent since March 2021 as a result of Kenyan Government decision to close the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.

Amnesty International and the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission calls on the African Commission to call on the Kenyan government to:
1. conduct prompt, thorough investigations into the incidents targeting LGBTI refugees in Kakuma refugee camp and elsewhere;
2. implement protection measures that ensure LGBTI refugees enjoy their asylum in Kenya where their rights and safety are guaranteed in accordance with regional and international human rights law.
Amnesty International and the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission also calls on the African Commission to:
1. urge donor countries to provide more support to Kenya that is specific to programs that enhance better protection for minority refugee groups at increased risk of human rights violations or abuses such as LGBTI refugees, including general assistance under the principle of responsibility sharing;
2. Consider undertaking a fact-finding mission to Kenya to assess the situation of LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers; and
3. urge UNHCR and its implementing partners to ensure that protection measures and services are responsive to gender and identity and ensure that the human rights risks specifically faced by LGBTI refugees is considered in program implementations.
Thank you.

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