Africa

Prison for 17 protesting Ugandan refugees in Kenya

Ugandan LGBTI refugees at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya pose to display their handcuffs while in custody yesterday. (Photo courtesy of Rainbow Kenya)

Ugandan LGBTIQ refugees at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya pose to display their handcuffs while in custody yesterday. The photo has been cropped to avoid showing their faces. (Photo courtesy of Rainbow Kenya)

Protests against mistreatment of LGBTIQ Ugandan refugees in Kenya have led to a month in prison for 17 of the refugees, who fled to homophobic Kenya to escape homophobic violence in Uganda.

Police at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya transport Ugandan LGBTI refugees to prison. (Photo courtesy of Rainbow Kenya)

Police at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya transport Ugandan LGBTI refugees to Lodwar Prison. (Photo courtesy of Rainbow Kenya)

Seventeen LGBTIQ Ugandan refugee protesters, detained in Nairobi, Kenya, earlier this month and forcibly relocated to the distant Kakuma refugee camp, were put on trial yesterday in Kakuma, Nairobi-based Rainbow Kenya reported.

After relocation to Kakuma because of their protests against mistreatment in Nairobi, they protested again in Kakuma against conditions at the camp, including police brutality and homophobia.

Each of the 17 was convicted and sentenced to one month in prison or payment of 13,000 Kenyan shillings (about US $130), according to Rainbow Kenya founder Fauza Calvin (a pseudonym, used for security).

Fauza said different defendants were accused of different crimes, including failure to obey orders from the officer in charge of security in Kakuma refugee camp, disturbing the peace, and distracting government officials from their duties during working hours. He said further:

Many of the 17 have been sent to Lodwar Prison to serve their sentences. The remainder are at the police station, awaiting transfer to prison.

A total of 18 Ugandan LGBTIQ refugees were originally detained and transferred to Kakuma, but one of the 18 was beaten by police on May 17 and now is in a wheelchair, Fauza said. He was exempted from the court proceedings because of his health.

Rainbow Kenya is a community-based organization that represents LGBTIQ Ugandan refugees and asylum seekers.

Melanie Nathan, executive director of the California-based African Human Rights Coalition, commented on the situation:

Melanie Nathan (Photo courtesy of Pride Shelter Trust)

Melanie Nathan (Photo courtesy of Pride Shelter Trust)

The truth is that the LGBT who were already in the Camp had not asked for the protest by the 17 who had newly arrived at the camp and who were refusing to register. In fact the LGBT refugees already there were upset at the attention being drawn to them as LGBT by these new arrivals.

The 18 who arrived newly – had been brought in by Kenyan police. They refused to register at Kakuma the moment they arrived because they did not approve of the conditions which are the same for all LGBT and ALL straight refugees. They protested because they wanted to go back to Nairobi and not be subjected to the poor conditions of the camp – which are the same for all straight or gay.

Had they listened to the rules and registered, the outcome may have been different. Kenya does not want to allow ANY refugees – straight or gay — to live in Nairobi. These 18 men know that rule. So if they are caught on streets as refugees – which is what happened to these 18 because they had been evicted and were protesting outside the UNHCR gates, chances are good they will be sent to Kakuma.

That is what happened here. When they got to Kakuma, they refused to register and protested. Unfortunately LGBT refugees should know that Kenya is a a sovereign country which has made a policy to keep refugees in camps.

In a response to Nathan, one of the 18 detainees, Lubinga Eriya, disputed her view of recent events, stating that the group was “in police custody at Kakuma police station stranded, beaten up like slaves. We are jailed with murderers and other criminals with mysterious cases threatening to cause harm on us. We are very sick since the medical facilities here are very poor. Madam I request u look deep in our matter.”

See the comments section for Nathan’s reply to Lubinga Eriya and several calls for an investigation by an agency such as the UNHCR or Human Rights Watch.

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18 thoughts on “Prison for 17 protesting Ugandan refugees in Kenya

  1. The truth is that the LGBT who were already in the Camp had not asked for the protest by the 17 who had newly arrived at the camp and who were refusing to register. In fact the LGBT refugees already there were upset at the attention being drawn to them as LGBT by these new arrivals. The 18 who arrived newly – had been brought in by Kenyan police. They refused to register at Kakuma the moment they arrived because they did not approve of the conditions which are the same for all LGBT and ALL straight refugees. They protested because they wanted to go back to Nairobi and not be subjected to the poor conditions of the camp – which are the same fort all straight or gay. Had they listened to the rules and registered the outcome may have been different. Kenya does not want to allow ANY refugees – straight or gay to live in Nairobi. These 18 men know that rule. So if they are caught on streets as refugees – which is what happened to these 18, becasue they had been evicted and were protesting outside the UNHCR gates, chances are good they will be sent to kakuma. That is what happened here. When they got to kakuma they refused to register and protested. Unfortunately LGBT refugees should know that Kenya is a a sovereign country which has made a policy to keep refugees in camps.

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  2. Hello, madam, the truth is.. am Lubinga Eriya Nuga05705 one of the LGBTI member who were forcefully brought to Kakuma camp. The real story is, most of the affected LGBTI refugees the 18, we are not new arrivals were already registered in Nairobi now 8-10months respectively and we have been given financial assistance for z-4months by UNHCR but to our dismay we were singled out (the 18) in a descriminative manner by our focal point madam Hester Moore. We are over 450 LGBTI refugees residing from Nairobi registered as urban refugees.

    Madam, we were told abruptly that we the 18 will not be receiving any financial assistance from UN. Remember, we had paid our rent already, we had cancelling sessions, healthy programs since some of us are sick and were already on medication from various health centers. I myself am asthmatic and I was receiving medical assistance from Riruta hospital in Kawwngware, which I can’t access in the camp.

    We therefore made a peaceful demonstration at UNHCR offices in Nairobi to attract the officials to our matter but we were surprised when we got rounded up by police and jailed for three days without trial and even making any substantial statement. From police custody we were forcefully taken to Ras in Shauri moyo and forced to sign movement passes to Kakuma camp on a gun point.

    We faced a lot of insults, abuses from Ras officials exposing us to every individual at their offices that time including our fellow refugees from other nationalities who swore to deal with us if taken to camp.

    They refused to listen to our plea and, on 11 May, we were packed in a bus from various police station without any clothes, toothbrush, all our belonging locked outside by landlords, leaving our medication behind — because some of us are HIV positive — and taken to the camp.

    I call that kidnapping and in any case we had no reason to sign any document at the camp reception since our rights were infringed. am so disappointed since were u was seeking protection, they are the ones subjecting me to torture and lots of injustices.

    We are right now in police custody at Kakuma police station stranded, beaten up like slaves, we are jailed with murderers and other criminals with mysterious cases threatening to cause harm on us..We are very sick since the medical facilities here are very poor. Madam, I request u look deep in our matter. Thnx

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    • Yes I totally understand what happened from your perspective, And it is NOT right. BUT as I said before as a refugee – you are still in host country KENYA. And how you have been treated is inhumane and awful. However you are a REFUGEE and no one is saying that what Kenya is doing is right. BUT the problem is Kenya is a sovereign country entitled to make law and policy. And you have been caught up in a situation where their law and policy does NOT help you as a refugee. SO Kenya does NOT want refugees in Nairobi. As a refugee you are NOT a citizen with rights. BUT a guest . They have said they ONLY want refugees in camps.

      So if you are on the street they have the right to place you in a camp. What you all don’t understand is you need to accept that you ARE REFUGEES not citizens of Kenya. Unfortunately YOU DO NOT have the same rights as Kenyan citizens. EVERYTHING that has happened to you is BAD. AWFUL!!! But until you obey the law for refugees you will be treated harshly.

      The treatment is terrible. But in your own country apparently it was worse – that is why you came to a a country where you could be a refugee for resettlement. Advocates cannot help LGBTI refugees with proper advocacy of LGBT refugees do not follow the law that pertains to ALL refugees.

      As I have said before – we will fight the injustice – BUT until all refugees follow basic refugee rules, there is very little we can do… SO WHAT is basic refugee rules? Go to the camp – do not even do what you call “peaceful Demonstration – WHY? Because according to Kenya law – you must be in CAMP and NOT in CITY. Sadly you do NOT have legal rights to be in city to protest. So you are only causing yourselves the harsh treatment.

      YOU WILL ONLY HAVE RIGHTS IF YOU ARE IN CAMP!!!! There is no protest rights if you are in Nairobi at UNHCR gates. So if you protest there then you are setting yourself up for bad torture and bad treatment. GO to camp – register there and demand your rights as refugee. But in Nairobi you are going against the law and setting yourself up for harsh treatment. UNFORTUNATELY Kenyans have the right to send to all refugees to camps!!!

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  3. Whatever the legalities, we are dealing with human beings who should have never been in this situation in the first place. The Kakuma 18 were taken against their will, and transformed into criminals under Kenyan law, rather than remaining asylum seekers or refugees. It is all very well to stick to the letter of a morally very questionable law, but when we are seeing a man beaten up by police, as I understand it in the presence of a UNHCR official, then it becomes a case of reacting as human beings witnessing intolerable cruelty: it is everyone’s right to condemn. As a Portuguese saying goes: he who is silent is complicit. Melanie Nathan’s assessment is depressingly insensitive.

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  4. Yes they should be heard as far as I am concerned there human rights and human dignity were violated they should have the right to express themselves and say how they feel no one should be forced to live in a harassing and abusive environment and there complaints of police brutality were legitimate because Brandon would not be in a wheelchair unable to walk if they police had not badly beaten him it was a horrible injustice done to them there complaints should have been addressed they were peaceful and non violent the crime was done bu the police not police brutality should be illegal and there should be someone to hold them accountable for it

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  5. The whole incident should be investigated – and KENYAN authorities taken to task for the harsh inhumane treatment. Lest we forget how brutal they are to their own citizens. And we have been pursuing the advocacy aspect of this – absolutely. With that said, I dont see any other human rights organizations with money and bandwidth stepping up to the plate. It seems everyone is concerned with gays in Chechnya- a HUGE outcry- and Africa is of no concern? The anti humanity treatment ought to end at its root. Western LGBTI organizations will take these stories to raise money – but I dont see them doing the work! Remember – This is more about Kenyan authorities. Who is going to investigate? UNHCR has limited capacity and Kenya could decide to end its entire refugee program. Its a sovereign country. I am not saying this is right. I stating the reality. … The Kenyan 18 were not following the asylum / refugee laws – so it is indeed a Catch 22 situation. No excuse for police brutality.

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  6. I am appalled that many of the people who are protesting the treatment of LGBTQ people in Chechnya are not also protesting the persecution of LGBTQ people in African countries. Concern by the West helped delay and change the anti-gay bill in Uganda a few years ago. (Bishop Senyonjo’s tours of America and films such as Call Me Kuchu and God Loves Uganda certainly made people aware of the bill being proposed). A lot of the persecution stems from religious belief and could be mitigated by emphasizing the shared humanitarian quotes from the Bible and Koran. But probably the most effective approach is in lobbying, petitioning, and writing leaders in the UN and in the countries that are committing these atrocities. Frank Mugisha and Jacqueline Kasha have spoken eloquently and effectively in the West about the situation in Uganda, and for a while, I thought that homophobia on the continent was finally on the decline. But, as Bishop Senyonjo once told me, it may take generations to change attitudes. He has been a brave role model in trying to change the thinking of faith-based communities. We simply can’t give up. I for one am trying to change attitudes in my own local community. Thus, when I write a letter or sign a petition to a world leader, I feel empowered by seeing what has worked in my locale.

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  7. Most important thing :let’s all learn to consult and get full information from local host lgbti organizations.we will be very happy to share information on the same considering we are talking about a protected population in a host country that is not lgbti friendly.

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  8. It’s also good to give a chance to the victims to explain about them selves but the freedom of speech and expression was taken away from them without anyone listening to them because they are voiceless . Hope the other side should also be given a chance to talk but it’s bad they are locked up in the prison and no one can listen to them

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