LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya are victims of severe hate crimes and abuses, including rape, according to joint report released by Amnesty International and a Nairobi-based gay rights group.
Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya hosts more than 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers, including hundreds of LGBTQ+ people who experience "extreme discrimination and violence" on a frequent basis, Amnesty and the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) said in a joint report.
Perpetrators are able to "commit their crimes with almost total impunity, enabled by inaction on the part of the authorities," they added.
Attacks on LGBTQ+ asylum seekers on the rise
Researchers interviewed 41 people between 2018 and February 2023 who highlighted that they faced "hate crimes, violence, including rape, and other serious human rights abuses."
In the report, a 41-year-old woman named Esther told researchers that she was attacked repeatedly for her sexual orientation. She was raped twice in 2018 in the camp -- the first time by two men threatening her with a knife, and the second time by four men during a burglary "in the presence of her seven-year-old son."
Another woman named Winnie, was also attacked because of her sexuality. She said her shop was destroyed by vandals who also injured one of her children. She said police had done little to help her apprehend those responsible.
Both Amnesty and NGLHRC have stated that these incidents show that the camp, which is run by the Kenyan government, was "not yet safe for asylum seekers and refugees" who identify as LGBTQ+.
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The community faces "discrimination as well as homophobic and transphobic attitudes from government officials, the police and other service providers," said Irungu Houghton, Amnesty's executive director for Kenya.
"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."
Kenya's government must "urgently ensure the physical and psychological safety" of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees in the Kakuma camp, they added.
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NGLHRC and Amnesty International are calling on Kenyan authorities to work with affected individuals as well as the wider LGBTQ+ community to develop measures to prevent and effectively respond to hate crimes and other forms of discrimination.
The report also urges authorities to reconsider the encampment policy and to relocate affected individuals to the capital Nairobi or other urban areas on a temporary or permanent basis in order to ensure the relevant services can be provided to LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees.
NGLHRC and Amnesty International also issued calls on third countries to increase their pledges for resettlement, and to establish or enhance flexible alternative pathways for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya who need safety in a third country but do not qualify for traditional resettlement or similar pathways.
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Increasing hostility towards LGBTQ+ community
The report comes as the LGBTQ+ community finds itself under attack in Kenya and in neighbouring countries, with governments and politicians taking an increasingly harsh line on same-sex relations.
Kenyan President William Ruto, a so-called born-again Christian elected last August, declared in March that same-sex marriages could "happen in other countries but not in Kenya."
He added that homosexuality was a Western import that Kenya's "customs, traditions, Christianity and Islam cannot allow."
In Kenya, same-sex acts remain punishable by up to 14 years in prison under colonial-era laws.
Nevertheless, Amnesty and NGLHRC noted that Kenya is the only nation in East Africa and the Horn region to offer "asylum to individuals who seek protection because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression and sex characteristics."
Meanwhile in neighbouring Uganda, an anti-homosexuality bill has passed parliament and is currently awaiting President Yoweri Museveni's signature to be made law. The proposed law extends an existing ban on gay sex, further making the "promotion" of homosexuality illegal as well; it even prescribes the death penalty for certain crimes that involve same-sex activity.
Same-sex relations are illegal in a total of 32 of Africa's 54 countries, and may be punishable including by death or lengthy prison terms in some parts of the continent.
Also read: UNHCR chief warns LGBTIQ+ refugees risk violence and abuse