Kakuma: From Celebration to Desperation

Robert Blackmon
Alturi Project Director

2018 has been a year of incredible highs and lows for LGBTI refugees in housed in Kenya’s sprawling Kakuma refugee camp. In early June, Refugee Flag Kakuma – a loose-knit organization of the 280+ self-identified LGBTI persons in the camp – held their first Pride Parade with an estimated attendance of 600 people. The day passed peacefully then threatening notes appeared on message boards across the camp calling for a halt to such displays and expulsion for LGBTI folks from the camp. Then those threats turned into violence

The camp is run by the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights and houses 200,000 refugees from 10 countries, most being from conservative Muslim backgrounds. UNHCR authorities have provided limited security for minority groups targeted by religious bigotry and LGBTI refugees have regularly been physically attacked, their belongings were stolen and shelters burned.

In early December Refugee, Flag Kakuma leaders presented a legal petition to UNHCR demanding greater protection. When they arrived at the authorities’ office they were badly beaten by local police hired by UNHCR along with local vigilantes. This incident made headlines around the world. Instead of offering the needed security within the camp, UNHCR decided to move a group of LGBTI leaders along with lesbian refugees housed with their children to ‘safe houses’ in Nairobi while leaving the majority of the community without protection in the camp.

As of December 19, this group was holding a vigil in the rain at the UNHCR offices in Nairobi. Their demands to remove all LGBTI people from the camp are going unheard and the situation remains dangerous for those inside and outside the camp.

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