LGBT+ refugees from a number of African countries were evicted from their refugee housing in Kenya on Friday. According to Reuters, the 76 LGBT+ refugees moved to Nairobi in April, seeking greater protection from discrimination they received within Kenyan refugee camps. On June 12, the landlord told the group to leave within the week. In a statement made to Reuters, one of the refugees made it clear that the group had no other housing options available to them. The Refugee Coalition of East Africa provided safe housing to the group on Friday. Unfortunately, housing discrimination is but one of the challenges faced by LGBT+ refugees seeking asylum in Kenya.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) regional spokesperson, Dana Hughes, told Reuters in a statement, “Currently, community-based organizations are assisting to identify various alternative housing options to allow the group to split in smaller groups.” The UNHCR operates through local charity groups to assist LGBT+ refugees in finding safe housing. However, such support was insufficient to prevent the eviction.
Adam Fitzgerald of the Refugee Coalition for East Africa has made it clear that such discrimination is commonplace. “Many identifying as transgender stated they have not left their rooms in several months. Anti-LGBTQI violence is the norm and housing discrimination is common,” Fitzgerald stated in Reuters.
The lack of support for the evicted group of LGBT+ refugees is indicative of the broader challenges faced by this vulnerable group. Over 750 LGBT+ refugees are now living in Kenya, many of whom are pushed to the brink by a lack of affordable and safe housing, support and employment opportunities. While there are a number of systemic challenges LGBT+ refugees face with regards to resettlement, more should be done to spread clear and accurate information to those seeking asylum, particularly about the standards of living, and the likelihood of resettlement. In situations where queer refugees are unable to reside in refugee camps due to discrimination, relocation should occur to residences where the landlord has been sensitized to the needs of LGBT+ refugees. Where possible, education should also be provided to leaders within refugee camps, to reduce the stigma faced by queer refugees. Despite the challenges, Kenya is viewed as the safest place by LGBT+ individuals across East Africa.
Discrimination is common throughout Africa. Anti-gay laws passed in Uganda in 2014 led to waves of asylum seekers seeking safety in Kenya. Laws criminalizing same-sex relations are rarely enforced in Kenya, and as such, Kenya is often viewed as a ‘safe haven’ for queer refugees and asylum seekers. Despite this, discrimination, harassment and violence against LGBT+ individuals is still commonplace from society and officials. Because of such discrimination, many queer refugees do not feel, and frequently are not, safe in refugee camps. In December 2018, whilst protesting outside UN refugee offices for greater support, queer refugees were violently attacked. Members of the protest were beaten, and the residences of known LGBT+ refugees were set alight. Unfortunately, such attacks are routine. Some groups of LGBT+ refugees were moved to Nairobi as an emergency measure. However, many locals were aware of safe-housing and discriminated against the refugees, refusing them employment, and forcing them to live on a meagre stipend provided by support agencies. In May, the Kenya High Court upheld the law criminalizing same-sex relations.
The lack of support provided by UNHCR for the evicted refugees is concerning. It is indicative of a systemic flaw in the handling of and support for LGBT+ refugees in East Africa more broadly. At the very least, greater information should be provided to LGBT+ refugees about the realities of asylum, and the likelihood of resettlement. Ideally, greater education of those living within refugee camps might reduce some of the stigma directed towards LGBT+ refugees. However, such stigma will likely continue given the recent ruling by the Kenya High Court. Without proper support, LGBT+ refugees and asylum seekers will be little safer in Kenya than they were in their home countries.
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