Warning to LGBT+ refugees: Covid-19 lockdown is no time for a sit-in

The U.N. refugee agency today warned 60 protesting LGBT+ refugees to halt a sit-in they began earlier this week at the Kakuma refugee camp. The agency said that it supports the right to protest in general, but that such gatherings during a Covid-19 lockdown put the health of protesters and others at risk.

From the African Human Rights Media Network

Kakuma Refugee Camp sign (Photo courtesy of African Human Rights Coalition)

The refugees are seeking resettlement to host countries outside Kenya, but all resettlement has been suspended during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is the statement from the UNHCR refugee agency, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees:

Nairobi, 29 April 2020 –

Logo of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
Logo of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, expressed today its concern about a sit-in in front of its office in Kakuma, Kenya, organized by some 60 refugees and asylum seekers citing security concerns and asking to be resettled to a third country. UNHCR reiterated that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, resettlement departures have been temporarily suspended worldwide.

As UNHCR, we support the right of refugees to peaceful and lawful protest. However, given the current situation, we urge the demonstrators to respect restrictions that have been put in place by the Government of Kenya to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and to protect the health of all refugees and host communities.

UNHCR and partners, together with representatives from the National Police Service and the Refugee Affairs Secretariat, have met twice with the group to understand their concerns and to try to identify and agree with them on ways to resolve this situation.

The group’s general security concerns have been discussed in detail and, among other things, the National Police Service has offered to increase security measures in the area of the Kakuma camp where they reside and has provided a security helpline number through which incidents can be reported 24/7. Individuals within the group who may wish to discuss personal security concerns have also been offered counselling sessions with UNHCR and partner staff.

As of this afternoon, the group has refused to return to their shelters. UNHCR urges them to take advantage of the concrete measures which have been offered to address their security concerns and of resolving the current impasse in a peaceful manner.

UNHCR is also alarmed about the spreading of false information on social media regarding the prevailing situation in Kakuma. We urge all those posting on social media about events or situations related to refugees in Kenya, including individuals residing outside of the country, to verify information and exercise responsibility and care before publishing, including sharing images.

Misinformation and disinformation spreads quickly on social media and any exaggeration or manipulation of facts can create additional tensions and put the most vulnerable refugees at risk. It can also hinder the ability of UNHCR and partners to best provide protection and assistance to almost 500,000 refugees and asylum-seekers currently hosted in Kenya.

The Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei settlement are home to more than 196,000 refugees and asylum-seekers mostly from South Sudan.

The U.S.-based African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC) warned that the protesters risk arrest, which Could hinder their chance for resettlement in the future. The AHRC issued this statement:

Melanie Nathan, Executive Director of African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC) and Marc Cohen, Director of AHRC Humanitarian Programs, are urging LGBTQI refugees to abide the UNHCR request, as follows:

Logo of the African Human Rights Coalition

African HRC is committed to advocating for long term durable solutions for LGBTQI refugees in Kakuma, Kenya, who face insecurities in the camp. However we recognize that during the COVID-19 Pandemic such solutions must be seen in context.  Until such time as the VIRUS mitigates and the worldwide resettlement process returns to regular operations, we believe that LGBTI refugees must return to their community shelters and accept the UNHCR ramp up of security measures.

We also note that given Kenya’s laws which include mandatory encampment for all, this is absolutely the wrong time for refugees to be asking the impossible, which is what the protest is in essence reflecting. These refugees, many of whom have legitimate concerns, are setting themselves up – and knowingly, for a clamp down by the Kenyan police who will be left with no choice but to make arrests if the protesters do not heed the COVID shelter in place curfews and laws, as they are forced to enforce laws that seek to protect the almost 200,000 refugees in the over-crowded camp.

African HRC (AHRC) urges potential protesters to consider the good of all and refrain at this time from this sit-in, which could have a detrimental impact to one’s resettlement later on, as any arrests under COVID-19 will likely be recorded on people’s portfolios which the foreign embassies examine when selecting candidates for resettlement.

African HRC (AHRC) has direct evidence of the fact that some refugees are putting out false narratives, opportunistically using this extremely onerous and impossible situation to attract attention for overseas press and well-wisher support. As a human rights organization we are unable to condone anything that is not fully truthful or exaggerated and that hurts the program at large, and we are asking all to please refrain from spreading falsity and rumors over social media. This is hurting and not helping the long term solutions and entire process.

African HRC also notes that the majority of actual LGBTI refugees are settled in their communities in the camp and not participating in this protest as they are supportive of the overall COVID-19 rules which are designed to keep the entire Kakuma community safe.

We also reflect on the fact that this is an opportunity for LGBTI refugees to rise courageously to the occasion that calls for solidarity and unity among all refugees. We believe that by placing everyone’s collective interests to the fore, will serve the LGBTI community’s best during this very challenging and difficult time. We are proud to be part of the solution where our Humanitarian Program has participated and continues to partner to mitigate food and hygiene related shortages as we head possibly into a more robust lockdown.  ON AHRC WEBSITE HERE

Give the above we urge all refugees to return to their shelters immediately.

Kindly Report any concerns related to this to African HRC can be made at [email protected]

DONATIONS TO AHRC’s Crucial Operational and Humanitarian work can be made HERE.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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