Alleged homophobia by UNHCR staff, Kenyan police and fellow refugees
The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is accused of “neglect, collusion, and inaction” over the victimisation of LGBT+ asylum seekers in Kenya’s refugee camps.
The accusation comes from the Peter Tatchell Foundation (PTF). It has written to the head of the UNHCR, Filippo Grandi, to express concern regarding the failure of his UN refugee agency to protect LGBT+ people who have fled homophobic persecution in neighbouring countries, mostly Uganda.
Mr Grandi has failed to reply to the PTF letter, let alone take remedial action, despite multiple reminders.
Full text of the letter below.
“Since 2017, I have received persistent reports of neglect, indifference and abuse by UNHCR staff and those they employ, including the failure of the UNHCR to protect LGBT+ refugees from abuse and violence by other refugees and the Kenyan police,” said PTF Director Peter Tatchell.
“The UNHCR in Kenya has a duty of care towards all refugees, including LGBT+ ones. For at least two years, it has failed that duty of care – and sadly it continues to fail now,” he added.
The Peter Tatchell Foundation has proposed a five-point plan to the UNHCR to end the threats, violence and exclusion, including removing UNHCR staff and contractors who have behaved in a homophobic way.
Text of Peter Tatchell’s letter to the head of the UNHCR (our italics)
This letter was sent three times since mid-January, without any reply.
Dear Filippo Grandi and UNHCR colleagues
Abuse of LGBT+ refugees in Kenya
I am a human rights defender of 52-years standing and Director of the London-based human rights ngo, the Peter Tatchell Foundation: http://www.petertatchellfoundation.org
I work with the UK and other governments on human rights issues.
I echo the concerns expressed by Richard de Luchi and LGBT+ refugees about the failure of the UNHCR to protect Ugandan and other LGBT+ refugees in the Kakuma and Nairobi refugee camps from homophobic abuse, threats and violence by fellow refugees, the Kenyan police and allegedly from some UNHCR staff and their external contracted employees, such as security staff.
The UNHCR in Kenya has a duty of care towards all refugees, including LGBT+ ones. For at least two years it has failed that duty of care – and sadly it continues to fail now.
Since 2017, I have received persistent reports of neglect, indifference and abuse by UNHCR staff and those they employ – and their failure to protect victimised LGBT+ refugees from abuse and violence by others. Allegations of prejudice and neglect persist against UNHCR staff.
This is in clear violation of the UNHCR’s mission statement and brings shame to an esteemed UN organisation.
You have the power to help put right these terrible wrongs. I urge you and the UNHCR to:
Halt the placement of LGBT+ refugees in the Kakuma camp. It is unsafe.
Transfer all LGBT+ refugees from Kakuma to Nairobi to a secure location, separate from other refugees who may threaten them (not all have been transferred thus far).
Speedily facilitate the resettlement of LGBT+ refugees to safe countries where they can live their lives without fear, threats, discrimination and violence.
Remove UNHCR staff and employed contractors who have behaved in a homophobic way towards LGBT+ refugees from any contact with these refugees and/ or dismiss them from UNHCR work.
Give UNHCR staff training in LGBT+ awareness and the unacceptability of homophobia, biphobia and transphobia – and make such prejudice a disciplinary offence.
I would be grateful to receive your assurances on these five points and be updated on progress on their implementation.
Thank you very much.
Director, Peter Tatchell Foundation
Richard de Luchi, an LGBT+ human rights defender who is working with LGBT+ refugees in Kenya, added:
“African LGBT+ people are regularly harassed, driven from their families, homes, jobs and, finally, their countries. In East Africa, some make their way to Kenya, where the UNHCR has its offices in Nairobi. They apply for refugee status and resettlement in third countries. This means a long wait, with interviews paced at six monthly periods but frequently delayed much longer without explanation or good reason. In Kenya, LGBT+ refugees are subject to the brutality of the state and its agents, as well as by the host community and fellow refugees. Employment is very difficult to find or keep, because of strict labour laws applying to non-Kenyans. No funding comes at present from the UNHCR for LGBT+ refugees. Sex work is often the only means of keeping body and soul together. Women, in particular, are subject to violence; the result of cultural sexism and an inability to understand lesbianism. Health problems, often serious, are the lot of almost every LGBT+ refugee, with minimal care available from hospitals and clinics. The medical profession seems as prejudiced as everyone else.”