Don’t abandon us, LGBTQI refugees say

As the new coronavirus spreads, don’t forget the desperate plight of LGBTQI refugees in Kenya, advocates say.

From the African Human Rights Media Network

The Refugee Coalition of East Africa (RefCEA) participates in a widespread food distribution drive to LGBTQI refugees throughout Nairobi and the surrounding areas. The initiative was funded in large part by ALIGHT (formerly the American Refugee Committee) with additional funding provided by RefCEA and through a grant from the Frontline AIDS Rapid Response Fund.

The Refugee Coalition of East Africa issued this statement:

LGBTQI Refugees and COVID-19

NAIROBI, KENYA – The Refugee Coalition of East Africa offers the following statement on the situation for LGBTQI refugees in the region during this international crisis:

All over the world, the rapid spread of SARS-CoV-2, that virus that causes COVID-19 (commonly known as the “coronavirus”) is wreaking devastating havoc on individuals, communities, and nations. From the health impacts of the disease itself, to the housing, economic, and resource crises that have followed and are yet to come, we are all impacted. This is a worldwide catastrophe the likes of which most of us have never seen in our lifetimes. It is ongoing, and none of us know how or when it will end.

Logo of the Refugee Coalition of East Africa

For the refugees of the world, this is a multi-layered crisis. On the first hand, we are part of the most at-risk demographics of the world population. We are often without proper health care and therefore in greater danger if exposed. We have no choice but to remain gathered in large numbers in limited housing or overcrowded camps, and we are not citizens with the benefits of those living in their home countries. Furthermore, we are foreigners, victims of discrimination as migrants and by arousing the resentment of those that are nationals and already have prejudices against us and the allocation of resources toward us. Additionally, we are in constant need, and as the world necessarily focuses its attention on the resolution of this crisis, and as the economic downturn hits those who donate or offer resources, we become easily and quickly forgotten.

For those of us who are LGBTQI refugees, the effect is devastating and swift. Many of our population suffer from compromised health conditions, as both our status as refugees and the discrimination against our sexual identity block our access to health care. We in Kenya cannot work legally and are socially isolated, so when the world turns its attention toward the current health crisis, we are inherently left behind. Already, our donor base has greatly reduced, and as many among us fear for their health, they are additionally concerned with a pending depletion of food and other provisions.

We are in the midst of a public health emergency causing panic, death, and fear on an international and widespread level. It merits the attention of the world and its leaders. At the same time, we implore humankind to not let us slip from your consciousness and, more importantly, your awareness that we require your assistance. At a time when the news cycle and many people’s lives are consumed by this catastrophe, we are still here. We are still suffering, unable to work and barely able to survive. We still need your help.

In solidarity,

The Secretariat of the Refugee Coalition of East Africa

To assist in the support of the LGBTQI refugee population in East Africa, please visit and consider making a donation today.


The Refugee Coalition of East Africa (RefCEA) is a registered community organization for and by lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers. RefCEA was established to unite the various independent LGBTQI refugee organizations in East Africa under an umbrella organization in order to facilitate long-term planning, advocacy, and representation, and to provide fiscal management and fundraising support for its members. Additionally, RefCEA oversees research initiatives representing the LGBTQI refugee community and works toward improving conditions for refugees during the resettlement waiting period. Current membership consists of: Nature Network, Foundation for LBQ Women Refugees, Refugee Trans Initiative, COSIR, Pride Umbrella Kenya, Lunko Haute Couture, Dessert Roses Foundation, and Refugee French Speaking Association.

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 Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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