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‘Serious human rights abuses’ rife against LGBT refugees in one of Kenya’s largest camps, Amnesty reveals

LGBT+ asylum seekers living in one of Kenya’s biggest refugee camps regularly suffer sexual assault, hate crimes and violence, according to a report from human rights campaigners.

Hundreds of lesbian, gay, bisexual and intersex refugees live among the more than 200,000 displaced people at Kakuma camp in north-western Kenya.

Under Kenya’s constitution, which enshrines “life and dignity for all”, the country should offer them a safe haven. But research by Amnesty International and the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission has revealed how, for many in sexual minority groups, this could not be further from the truth.

The report, based on 41 interviews with LGBT asylum seekers between 2018 and 2023, makes for difficult reading, as it documents how the perpetrators of violent sexual assault are allowed to act with near-total impunity at Kakuma.

In one testimony collected in the report, Esther, a 41-year-old lesbian woman, reported being raped at Kakuma camp in early 2018. She said she was attacked by two men carrying knives while showering at a site near the camp gates. The mother-of-one said that, in the same year, she was again raped by four men who broke into her home where she lives with her seven-year-old son.

Another lesbian woman, Winnie, told of how her small business in the camp’s market, which had become a hub for the local LGBT+ community, was destroyed in 2019 when she briefly left her child to mind the stall. A group of people were said to have ruined the shop and injured the child. Upon reporting the incident to police, Winnie said they told her to find the perpetrators and bring them to be arrested herself.

LGBT asylum seekers and refugees living in one of Kenya?s biggest refugee camps routinely suffer hate crimes, violence, including rape, a report has revealed (Photo: Supplied by Amnesty International)
Kakuma camp in north-western Kenya is home to more than 200,000 asylum seekers and refugees (Photo: Supplied/Amnesty International)

Another refugee, whose identity is protected, was on the run from homophobic attackers in his village in Uganda when he was told that was being taken to Kakuma, which is administered by the UN refugee agency UNHCR.

He said he thought his “prayers had been answered”, but upon arrival he soon learnt that the camp was far from safe.

He said: “They took us to the Kakuma reception centre. But guess what? The minute we got into that blue gate, some people were like… these are very good shogas [slur for homosexuals].”

After he was moved from the reception to the camp’s community, he said hate crimes and violence were everyday occurrences. “I remember I got several attacks there,” he said, about the housing unit he shared with almost 200 other LGBT+ refugees.

“We were getting very, very, very serious attacks. We were getting serious arson attacks. Lesbians were being raped. Transgenders were being sexually harassed. Discrimination, denial of services at several service point centres in the camp.”

Irungu Houghton, executive director for Kenya at Amnesty, told i that “a repeated failure on the part of law enforcement agencies to take action on reports of violence and assault” was to blame for Kakuma’s culture of violence against LGBT+ people.

He said that countries in North America and Europe had not provided “swift and safe passage” for Kenyan refugees to seek asylum, leaving them stuck in Kakuma, where they face violence and even death.

Chriton Atuhwera, 22, was burned alive in Kakuma camp in April 2021 by homophobic attackers. Over two years later, his killers remain free with no charges being brought against them.

The report comes after prominent Kenyan fashion designer and LGBT+ activist, Edwin Chiloba, was murdered in Uasin Gishu county, south-eastern Kenya, in January. It is believed he was targeted because of his sexuality.

Despite being the only country in East Africa that provides asylum to individuals who face persecution on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, Kenya’s national legislation criminalises same-sex relationships and sexual minorities still face violence and abuse.

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