Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) asylum seekers and refugees living in one of Kenya’s biggest refugee camps routinely suffer hate crimes, violence, including rape, and other serious human rights abuses, the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) and Amnesty International said in a joint report.
Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya is home to more than 200,000 asylum seekers and refugees, including hundreds of LGBTI people. The report details the extreme discrimination and violence suffered by LGBTI residents in Kakuma, both as a result of their status as asylum seekers or refugees and their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, and sex characteristics.
“LGBTI individuals in Kakuma camp have suffered physical and sexual violence and other serious human rights abuses, including violations of their right to be free from torture and ill-treatment, because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression, or sexual characteristics,” said Victor Nyamori, Amnesty International’s Researcher and Advisor on Refugee and Migrants Rights.
“Such hate crimes are a criminal manifestation of the discrimination LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers face.”
The report, based on interviews with 41 LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees between 2018 and February 2023, details how perpetrators of violence and intimidation towards LGBTI individuals commit their crimes with almost total impunity, enabled by inaction on the part of the authorities.
Amnesty International Kenya’s Executive Director, Irungu Houghton, said: “Despite a constitution that protects life and dignity for all, LGBTI asylum seekers suffer discrimination as well as homophobic and transphobic attitudes from government officials, the police and other service providers. This is often reflected in delays to the processing of their asylum claims, harassment, violent homophobic attacks, threats, and intimidation, and extremely limited opportunities for local integration or third-country resettlement. The proposed new Kenya Government Marshal Plan for refugees must also address the experiences being faced by LGBTI asylum seekers.”
Same-sex relations are illegal in 32 of Africa’s 54 countries, and may be punishable including by death or lengthy prison terms. In Kenya, same-sex acts remain punishable by up to 14 years in prison under colonial-era laws.
“Hate crimes have a pernicious and long-lasting impact on survivors and communities and require a coherent and thorough response from policy makers, law enforcement officials and the criminal justice system,” said Njeri Gateru, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC).
The testimonies collected in the report point to systematic and pervasive inaction by police in Kakuma refugee camp to effectively, promptly, independently, and thoroughly investigate allegations of hate crimes reported by LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees.
Esther, a 41-year-old lesbian woman, reported being raped twice in Kakuma camp. In early 2018, she was attacked by two men carrying knives while she was showering in a plot near the camp gate. One raped her while the other held her down. Later that year, she was raped a second time by four men during a burglary at her house, in the presence of her seven-year-old son with whom she was sharing a bed.
Winnie, a lesbian woman, had a business in the market, where LGBTI friends used to buy. She told the researchers that one day in 2019 she was away from work and left one of her children to take care of the business. A group of people destroyed the stall and injured the child, saying that the LGBTI customers were affecting other businesses. When she went to report the crime, the police told her to look for the attackers and bring them to the police station to be arrested.
Amnesty International and NGLHRC conclude that the Kakuma refugee camp complex is not yet safe for LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees. For the new Refugee Act (2021) to transform Kenya’s encampment policy and make local integration a durable solution for LGBTI refugees, the Kenyan government, UNHCR and third country governments must act on the report’s recommendations the organisations argue.
NGLHRC and Amnesty International are calling on the Kenyan government to urgently ensure the physical and psychological safety of all LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees in the Kakuma refugee camp complex. The authorities must also discuss and agree with affected individuals and the wider LGBTI community on measures to prevent and effectively respond to hate crimes and other forms of discrimination.
To ensure services are provided to LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees, authorities must amend or suspend the encampment policy and consider relocating LGBTI individuals to Nairobi or other urban areas on a temporary or permanent basis.
NGLHRC and Amnesty International are also calling on third countries to increase pledges for resettlement and establish or enhance flexible alternative pathways for LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya who need safety in a third country but do not qualify for traditional resettlement or other pathways.
Kenya is the only country in the East and Horn of Africa that offers asylum to individuals who seek protection because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression and sex characteristics.
Across this region, the criminalization of same-sex sexual practices and relationships, legislation targeting LGBTI people, and cultural and religious traditions continue to force LGBTI people to flee.
Many flee to Kenya because of its geographical proximity. However, national legislation in Kenya criminalizes same-sex sexual relations and abuse of the rights of LGBTI people occurs.
In April 2023, a Member of the Kenyan Parliament published a Family Protection Bill that seeks to further criminalise same-sex relationships, make it illegal for any service-provider to provide services to LGBTI people and obligate the Kenyan government to deny asylum or expel LGBTI refugees based on their sexuality or sexual orientation.