Paul Canary Kanyamu – Human Rights Defender in Kenya

Sarah Lestico
 | 
Alturi Contributor

Paul Canary Kanyamu is a humanitarian volunteer, refugee rights advocate, and human rights defender. He is 26 years old and originally from Uganda. Paul lives in the Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya and is an LGBTQIA+ Refugee Representative in the camp.

Where is home for you?

I have not found “home” yet. A home is a place that accepts me; where I can move freely as an LGBTIQ person and wave a rainbow flag without fear. I’m originally from Uganda, but in 2018 my parents found out I was gay and threatened to kill me. I was excommunicated from my family. I hope that one day I find a country that will accept me and allow me to celebrate who I am.

What was your journey to the Kakuma Refugee Camp like?

It is illegal to be LGBTIQ in Uganda. When my family assaulted me and forced me to leave, I ran from Uganda to Kenya. I almost lost my life during that journey; others called me demonic and attacked me. When I arrived in Kenya, they took me to the Kakuma Refugee Camp, where I have been rejected and targeted from day one.

What are the realities of being LGBTQ+ in Kakuma?

We are always in survival mode, constantly facing violence and discrimination. Kakuma Refugee Camp is a 30-acre camp with around 200,000 people. I would say about 800 of us are LGBTIQ. We cannot work or participate in society due to discrimination and daily attacks.

In 2021 a transgender person was burned alive. I have had knives pressed against my throat, and recently, my right leg was badly broken when someone pushed me into a ditch. I sometimes walk around with a crutch when pain resurfaces since I have never fully recovered.

People spit on us while walking down the street. During the height of COVID-19, we were scapegoated and blamed for the pandemic. Any LGBTIQ allies supporting us have abandoned us because they are also targeted.

How is the Kakuma LGBTQ+ community organizing to support each other?

LGBTIQ individuals within the camp come together as a family to share the little resources, protection, and opportunities we have available. For example, we organized an online fundraiser on social media to raise funds to care for members of our community when they are attacked or beaten. We don’t trust the refugee clinics and fear that homophobic staff may euthanize us, so we’ve developed other ways to care for each other that are separate from the camp clinics.

Our community lives together in small groups to stay alive. It is similar to a war zone; we sleep in shifts to protect one another – it is not uncommon to be attacked by fellow refugees, and we must constantly stay vigilant.

How do you stay hopeful in light of the current situation? 

The biggest thing that brings our community hope is hearing media from abroad talking about our situation and spreading awareness globally. I also find joy in the small things I can do, whether skipping rope, having enough data to watch a movie online, or praying – there are some things we can do to hold onto hope.

It’s difficult because I cannot become the dream I aspire to be. I want to be a doctor and serve my community, but time is moving fast, and I’m focused solely on my survival right now while in Kakuma Refugee Camp.

What is one thing we as individuals can do today to support the LGBTQ+ community in Kenya and the Kakuma Refugee Camp? 

There are a few ways you can support the LGBTQ+ community in Kakuma.

  • DONATE

Click here and DONATE to LGBTIQ+ refugees in Kakuma. I and others organized this fundraiser for food, medical supplies, and other community aid.

  • SIGN OUR PETITION

We have organized an online petition. Please add your signature and share with others.

Protect LGBTIQ+ Refugees in Kenya – Demand For Our Immediate Relocation To Safety

  • ADVOCATE

We need your voice. You can write a letter to your Member of Congress, the European Parliament, or others in power urging for our immediate evacuation and relocation from Kakuma Refugee Camp.

Our community is also looking to connect with the media so we can share our story of persecution with the world. If you are a journalist, activist, or elected official and want to help, please reach out to kanyamupaul20@gmail.com.

What kind of international action, pressure, or support could make a difference for you and the LGBTQ+ community in Kenya/Kakuma?

We must put economic pressure on the Kenyan government and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Kenya/Kakuma. If countries or bodies of power that help fund Kenyan programs demanded for our safe evacuation, that could pressure Kenya and the UNHCR enough to finally take action and relocate queer refugees from Kakuma Refugee Camp to somewhere safe.

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