Kakuma Camp: A Nightmare For Transgender Refugees Becoming Reality In Kenya.
"Feels good right now, though it's a plastic smile" LS, A Perilous Exodus
The journey of LGBTQ+ refugees to Kakuma Camp began in 2014 when Uganda intensified its criminalization of homosexuality. These individuals did not choose to become refugees; they had no other option as their home countries became increasingly unsafe. Kenya seemed like a sanctuary initially, but as time passed, it revealed a harsher reality for LGBTQ+ refugees.
"It's very hard but sadly, it's becoming a routine. Every day, hour and minute is an atrocity." LS, Challenges Faced by LGBTQ+ Refugees
Upon their arrival in Kakuma, LGBTQ+ refugees found themselves waiting for up to six months for durable solutions, including resettlement. It quickly became evident that they were processed slower than other refugees, exacerbating their already vulnerable situation. The Kenyan government imposed restrictions, confining all refugees, including LGBTQ+ individuals, to camps like Kakuma, located far from Nairobi. The camp, intended to provide a fresh start for refugees, is far from welcoming. Queer refugees face assaults and discrimination within its boundaries.
"Queerphobic police officers are threatening to plant drugs or cocaine during arrests to get us sent to jail, by putting drugs in our pockets for example." LS, Escalating Violence
In 2018, the situation reached a breaking point. The camp became increasingly unsafe due to homophobic violence, leading to the evacuation of LGBTQ+ refugees to Nairobi for processing. However, in 2019, UNHCR and the government of Kenya brought more other queer refugees once again in Kakuma Camp, leaving many questions about the effectiveness of these evacuations.
LGBT+ individuals in Kakuma Camp endure homophobia, verbal attacks, physical violence, and threats. Despite numerous complaints and reports, these attacks persist, with insufficient protection from both the UNHCR and the Kenyan government. In some cases, police officers even threaten to hide drugs on LGBTQ+ refugees during arrests, a disturbing tactic used to send them to jail.
"Groups of people attack us on the camp streets, asking whether we're a man or woman, undressing us, asking for « Proof of gender and sexuality » and they beat us up. Other refugees are walking with machetes around the camp, they end up using them to slice us when they meet us and because of this, we decided to limit our movements around the camp. " LS, The Silence of UNHCR
The LGBTQ+ refugees' plight is exacerbated by the inaction and silence of UNHCR. They desperately need the organization to condemn the violence and injustice they face daily. However, UNHCR has yet to take substantial action in this regard.Transgender refugees, in particular, suffer from severe discrimination. Organizational employees within the camp have made derogatory remarks and subjected them to verbal and physical abuse. Moreover, physical attacks occur not only from fellow refugees but also from police and members of the host community.
"When we get opportunities to access several offices in the camp especially where we explain our safety concerns, trans people get attacked by organisational employees with sentences such as « Come back when you talk like a real man. »" LS, The Threat of Violence and Suicide
The threat of violence looms large in the camp, as attackers often threaten and assault LGBTQ+ refugees without consequences. They are left feeling unprotected and isolated, with little recourse for their safety. In such a hostile environment, many LGBTQ+ refugees, especially transgender individuals, contemplate suicide as the only way to avoid violence, torture, and persecution. This grim reality paints a harrowing picture of their daily lives.
"When everything is fine and settled and the only next step is to leave Kenya through Private Refugee Sponsorships, visas are delivered BUT the UNHCR and the government of Kenya do not allow these victims to safely relocate/exit from the country to their safe destinations because of bureaucracy. They deliberately hold victims back in the same camp they are facing horrible homophobia even though they are set to move out of the camp permanently to safety and don't let them go on flights. They are ready to go and move, but because of homophobia, bias and bureaucracy, they don't let them go away from the camp. It's very traumatic" LS Limited Resettlement Options
UNHCR has acknowledged that resettlement slots are limited, but for these refugees, it remains their only hope for a safer life. Some international supporters have managed to secure private resettlement options for these individuals in countries like Canada and the USA. However, the bureaucratic hurdles imposed by UNHCR and the Kenyan government prevent them from leaving the camp, even after visas are issued.
"With the layout of the camp being all flat and open, no solid walls, it's « easy » to get killed in your sleep. People get burned in the middle of the night. Someone died from this very compound that we sleep in, someone else is still nursing fire wounds, 2 years later. " LS, A Plea for Support:
To make a difference in the lives of these refugees, it is crucial that individuals around the world raise their voices in support. Reach out to your country's government and UNHCR to inquire about their plans for the durable safety of LGBTQ+ refugees in Kakuma Camp. Furthermore, raising awareness by sharing their stories on social media, such as @freeblock13 on Twitter, can help bring attention to this dire situation.
Amidst such a situation, we are surviving on donations to get food, medication, and other basics since we can't get employed plus facing a challenge of discrimination in camp hospitals due to homophobia. We therefore request for your support for donations only through a volunteer led organisation, Trans Safety Emergency Fund.
The stories and experiences of transgender refugees in Kakuma Camp are a sobering reminder of the harsh realities faced by the LGBTQ+ community in some parts of the world. As global citizens, it is our responsibility to stand up and advocate for their safety, human rights, and equality, so that they can one day find the acceptance and protection they deserve.
LS has been connected to the BØWIE Creators through the Trans Safety Emergency Fund (TSEF), a Trans and BIPoC led institution committed to supporting Trans people in emergency situations around the globe. Based in Bern, they focus on financially supporting Trans people that have been evicted or are at the verge of eviction; Trans people who are fleeing their homes or have already fled and find themselves unhoused; Trans people who have no capacity to afford basic living costs due to very low levels of employment for Trans people; and other specific emergency cases of high necessity, such as LS’s.
The TSEF is a donation based fund dependent on the support of the community around it. Please consider becoming a monthly donor and supporting our upcoming campaign Our Work Continues 2024, starting on December 1st.Also, make sure to sign up to the TSEF Newsletter to stay up to date with their new campaigns and fundraising events. You can do so on their website transsafety.fund