Queer refugees face uncertain future as Kenya set to close camps

With Kenya set to close its largest refugee camps by the end of June 2022, LGBTIQA+ refugees are staring at a bleak future, fearful of returning to their “hostile” countries of origin.

For decades, the Kakuma Refugee Camp, northwest of Nairobi, has sheltered hundreds of these refugees fleeing persecution.

With the imminent closure of the camps, a group of refugees is calling on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to facilitate their settlement in LGBTIQA+ friendly nations in Europe.

The group’s spokesperson, gay Ugandan refugee Gilbert Kagarura, said that going back to their countries of origin would be “signing their own death certificates”.

“It will be inhuman and unreasonable to tell some of us to go back to countries that wanted to kill us,” said Kagarura.

“The least UNHCR can do is to find safe countries where we can be granted asylum and assured of our safety.”

Kagarura, who fled Uganda in 2016 after several attacks on his life, said that forcing LGBTIQA+ refugees to go back to their countries of origin would violate their basic human rights.

“UNHCR has been our friend and protector for all these years, and thus we call upon them to continue advancing the protection of our rights, even upon the closure of the refugee camps,” he said.

Doreen Kigongo, a trans refugee, said that despite attacks at Kakuma, life had been safe compared to in Uganda.

“Kakuma Refugee Camp gave us hope when our mother countries and when our brothers and sisters turned against us,” said Kigongo. 

“For us, going back home cannot be an option at all.”

Kigongo fled Uganda in 2018 after her family denounced her and joined the community in attacking her because of her identity.

An agreement between the Kenyan Government and the UNHCR will see some refugees returned to their countries of origin, with others granted permits allowing them to seek work in Kenya.

“The roadmap, which was presented to the Government of Kenya in the beginning of April, includes voluntary return for refugees in safety and dignity, departures to third countries under various arrangements, and alternative stay options in Kenya for certain refugees from East African Community countries,” said the Kenyan Government and the UNHCR in a joint statement.

The UNHCR has said that it will repatriate some LGBTIQA+ refugees to safe places across the globe after vetting and verification.

The majority are from Burundi, Uganda, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Somalia.

Although it criminalises homosexuality, Kenya has remained the only East African nation to host LGBTIQA+ refugees fleeing persecution.

According to the UNHCR, 235 such refugees have been submitted for resettlement since 2019, of whom nearly half have departed for safer countries.

Of the total 512,000 people hosted by Kenya’s two largest camps, Dadaab and Kakuma, 1,000 are classified as LGBTIQA+ refugees.

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