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Firebomb attack on LGBT+ ‘Block 13’ at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya

by | Jun 2, 2021

Firebomb attack on LGBT+ ‘Block 13’ at Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya leads to death of Trinidad Jerry while UNHCR fail to protect residents.

John S, a 21-year old LGBT+ Block 13 resident at Kakuma camp, talks to Peter Keogh about the death of his friend Trinidad Jerry following a homophobic firebomb attack on March 15th 2021. Why, he asks, are the UNHCR still failing to protect LGBT+ residents despite the desperate conditions in which they are living?

In our previous blog, John S told his own story of how he came to seek asylum at Kakuma and described the terrifying situation for LGBT+ people in the camp both before and after the firebomb attack of 15 March 2021. John also talked about the lack of response from UNHCR to repeated pleas and demands from the inhabitants of Block 13. This is despite one LGBT+ Kakuma refugee, Ernest Mwiru, committing suicide by hanging himself from a tree outside UNHCR’s headquarters in Nairobi last year.

Now another LGBT+ life has been lost – Trinidad Jerry, one of the two Kakuma LGBT+ residents badly burnt in the firebomb. Trinidad and fellow Block 13 resident Jordan were first taken to a local hospital with no specialist burns provision. They were in excruciating pain. They were only belatedly transferred by road to Kenyetta Hospital in Nairobi where Trinidad died on April 12th. An extract of a statement issued by Block 13 residents of Kakuma Refugee Camp and others reads:

Trinidad’s life and human dignity were subjected to attrition and a slow death. As an LGBTQ+ refugee, he experienced rejection, criminalisation and forced displacement from his homeland of Uganda to Kakuma Refugee Camp, where he was subjected to relentless homophobic violence including seven attacks on his body in just one year. He was stabbed; stoned and burned on multiple occasions. […] Today, as we mourn the passing of our dear brother and comrade, we direct our grief and rage at the UNHCR, who continue to marginalise Kakuma LGBTQ+ refugees like Trinidad and Jordan rather than fulfil their mandate “to aid and protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities, and stateless people, and to assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country”.

Chriton Atuhwera, also known as Trinidad Jerry, died as a result of his burns following a firebomb attack on Block 13 on March 15 2021.

Danger at Dadaab and Kakuma camps for LGBTQ+

Dadaab and Kakuma camps are among the largest refugee camps in the world. Both are located in northern Kenya. Together they shelter some 410,000 refugees and asylum-seekers. More than half the population come from Somalia and roughly a quarter from South Sudan. The rest come from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan and elsewhere in the region. There are 300 LGBT+ people, adults and their children confined to Block 13 in Kakuma camp. They have told UNHCR and the Kenyan government repeatedly they are unsafe and facing repeated homophobic and transphobic violence. The Kenyan’s government demand that UNHCR close Kakuma refugee camp has intensified this violence which culminated in a night-time firebomb attack on Block 13 on 15th March 2021 which seriously injured 2 people.

Photo 2 The Firebomb attack in Block 13 
Photo courtesy of John S

Covid Conversation: John S tells Peter Keogh

Cov19Chronicles:  What is the mood in Block 13 following Trinidad’s death? How are you all feeling?

John S: The situation in the camp and especially here at block 13, is generally bad. We are in more fear now than ever. Sleeping in the same place (in the compound or yard) where Trinidad was burnt alive gives us all fear for losing our lives too. So, we are generally living in fear. Whenever it gets dark, we spend more time awake to act as guards for others to sleep and we do this in shifts throughout the night. 

Cov19Chronicles:  How is Jordan doing? Is he still in hospital? Is he out of danger?

Jordan was discharged from hospital, even though his situation was worsening. He was rotting and stinky. He was in pain. He needed more serious health care than he was receiving at Kenyatta hospital and yet they were ready to discharge him despite his critical situation. However, he managed to get to another hospital and for the little time he has been there, he is doing fine and recovering better than when he was at Kenyatta hospital which falls under the management of the UNHCR. So, Jordie is doing fine right now under a new hospital. 

Cov19Chronicles:  Since their statements in late March, have UNHCR responded in any way? 

We haven’t heard from UNHCR in response to the demands stated in the recent statements and press releases that we have been issuing with the help of our ally organizations. They are silent about our situation ‘til now. 

Cov19Chronicles:  In the past, peaceful demonstrations from Block 13 residents were met with violence from UNHCR and RAS. Have there been any further demonstrations from the residents of Block 13 since Trinidad Jerry’s death? What has the response been like?

Yes, on the date of his death, we managed to reach the UNHCR sub office in Kakuma to ask them of ways forward for our protection. However, they sent us the police to brutalise us. They ordered us to go back to the camp or else they will help us go back in a brutal way. Since we were in fear of being brutalised by the police, we went back to the camp peacefully and that is our most recent demonstration we have made ever since the death of our comrade. But still UNHCR didn’t come out to attend to us or listen to us. We haven’t heard from them. 

Cov19Chronicles:  Have there been any more threats or violence over the last two weeks?

Yes, threats and attacks continue. Just yesterday, we got a serious threat to one of our trans sisters. We got still another attack to one other of our trans sisters. We are generally getting more attacks and threats. And these don’t only arise from the refugees or the host community but also from the police and the local community security, the CPPT. 

Cov19Chronicles:  Finally, what can we and others do to help the residents of Block 13? 

Everyone can help by contacting and sustaining pressure on UNHCR Kenya by writing an email asking them about our situation and what they have in place to help us especially by evacuating us to a safe place. 

Photo 3: Plea to UNHCR by LGBT+ refugees Block 13 Kakuma Camp, Kenya

People can also help by contacting their government and asking them to intervene in our situation especially by providing us safe havens we can find freedom and safety in their countries. People can also donate to our go fund me page and to organizations or individuals who support us. We welcome any contact with us to strategize more on how to get UNHCR to act as per their mandate and protect the lives of those who are vulnerable. 

People can share two petitions on change.org and Avaaz and offer support for LGBT+ refugees’ demands set up by Just Associates (JASS, South Africa), the African Coalition of Lesbians, US gay rights on-line magazine Blade, Pan Africa ILGA and Global Interfaith Network. All these organisations back our demands to be relocated.  If you would like to contact me (John, S Human Rights Defender), please WhatsApp me +254708221473 or e-mail me [email protected].
Peter Keogh is Professor of Health and Society at the Faculty of Well-being, Education and Language Studies at the Open University. 

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