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LGBTI Ugandans flee anti-gay Kakuma, find worse in Malawi

Trouble was all that four desperate Ugandan LGBTI refugees found when they tried to escape from the homophobia and food shortages of Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp. In June, they traveled 1,000 miles to Malawi, where they hoped for relief.  Instead they found more hunger and more homophobia.

Three Ugandan LGBTI refugees sleep on the ground in Malawi. (Photo courtesy of Refugee Flag Kakuma)
Three Ugandan LGBTI refugees sleep on the ground in Malawi. (Photo courtesy of Refugee Flag Kakuma)

Now they want to return to Kakuma. Mbazira Moses, executive director of the camp’s LGBTI support group Refugee Flag Kakuma, is trying to raise money to pay for their return trip.

At Kakuma Camp, hundreds of LGBTI refugees are surrounded by tens of thousands of other refugees, many of them from homophobic East African countries.

In Malawi, before their food ran out, several Ugandan LGBTI refugees from Kakuma Camp shared a meal with some Ugandan LGBTI refugees who came directly to Malawi from Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Refugee Flag Kakuma)
In Malawi, before their food ran out, several Ugandan LGBTI refugees from Kakuma Camp shared a meal with some Ugandan LGBTI refugees who came directly to Malawi from Uganda. (Photo courtesy of Refugee Flag Kakuma)

Timothy Hobbs Kayiwa, the informal leader of the travelers, said that he and two other members of the group had saved 50,000 Kenyan shillings (about $500), which they gave to a truck driver “whom we told to take us far away from East Africa.” He drove the four men through Nairobi to Tanzania. From there, a friend of the driver took them to Lilongwe, Malawi.

They applied to the Malawian government for recognition as refugees, but were denied. They turned to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which told them to return to Kenya. That will mean round-trip travels of about 2,000 miles and round-trip expenses totaling nearly $1,000, just to get back to where they started.

Malawian officials let them sleep in a bare room for a while, but told them they needed to leave in July. Two of the refugees needed medical care, which left no money for food, Kayiwa said.

In June, this sign warned LGBTI refugees at Kakuma Camp in Kenya that they would be killed if they remained in the camp. “If you don’t leave the camp, we are going to kill you one by one.” (Photo courtesy of Refugee Flag Kakuma)
In June, this sign warned LGBTI refugees at Kakuma Camp in Kenya that they would be killed if they remained in the camp. “If you don’t leave the camp, we are going to kill you one by one,” it stated. (Photo courtesy of Refugee Flag Kakuma)

“The situation out here is very difficult and way to challenging, just like at Kakuma Refugee Camp,” Kayiwa said. But at Kakuma, “at least they recognise our case.”

“UNHCR and the government of Malawi failed to register us. They have too much homophobia,” he said.

If anything, the homophobia they encountered in Malawi was worse than that in Kenya, Kayiwa said.

Mbazira Moses set a fundraising goal of $450 to get the men back to Kenya. So far, he has collected about $150. Donations can be made in the form of M-Pesa mobile money at +254799266789. For other methods of donation, contact Mbazira Moses at refugeeflagkakuma@gmail.com.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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