Homophobic Fire Attack: Kakuma Camp, February 2022

This is one of two blogs that were put together in late February 2022, and draw on Facebook messages from Jones Graham and Isa Mubiru. Peter Keogh’s name has been included as co-author. The blog is written with first names only to protect the LGBT+ people still living in Kakuma Block 13. Read their other blog here.

by Helen, Peter, Isa, and Jones

1st February 2022

In recent months, we started communicating among ourselves about the dire situation of LGBT+ refugees in Kakuma camp in Kenya. There are some reports, for instance a recent report by the Rainbow Railroad, which suggest that gathering LGBT+ refugees in one block, Block 13, is not necessarily a good idea. This strategy for collective self-protection can also increase vulnerability to homophobic attack, including arson. Jones Graham recently contacted us, proposing a commemorative piece for one of the residents murdered in Kakuma. Homophobic violence and a lack of effective protection and policy action continue to plague the community. On 9 February 2022, Jones reported this state of affairs: 

I was thinking if we could do an update on Trinidad’s murder. This is because the first suspect as the video (attached) shows, is now our community leader (block leader) and it is such a surprise to us. We expect him to be handled by justice but he is the person we have to work with in security matters we find, in this part of the camp, Block 13, which we are living in. Can we do an update news article about this? I hope your all are doing well, this side the situation is still tuff. 

Chriton ‘Trinidad’ Atuhwera died in a fire set deliberately. He died in April 2021 at the age of 22. From Uganda originally Trinidad was a smart and sensitive young man who studied history, theology, economics, and literature. He also wrote poetry. He died far too young, and for no good reason.

Trinidad, RIP

At the start of James Baldwin’s book, The Fire Next Time, James Baldwin starts, black, homosexual and a major writer intellectual in the US of the 1960s and 1970s, wrote something at the start of the book that seems strangely prophetic for LGBTQ+ refugees of Kakuma camp in Kenya today.

“God gave Noah the rainbow sign, No more water, the fire next time!”

In the same book, Baldwin speaks of “death and humiliation; fear by day and night, fear as deep as the marrow of the bone” [1]. A message arrives from Jones Graham about an incident that happened around 1 July 2021:

A man shouted at us: “You a no longer fit to live with our children, you have recruited enough of them, you don’t deserve to live anymore.” After someone made this statement, one of them directly started hitting my forehead and on falling down, a sharp object passed just near my neck. I thought my head had rolled off my neck and immediately started making loud screams. This is the kind of life that most of us here in the camp especially at BLOCK 13 expect on an almost daily basis, especially now that the community was rallied to murder any of us at any chance they get.

This is the kind of life I didn’t expect to endure when I fled Uganda. I was 100% sure that with UNHCR, everything will be fine. However, I was wrong and I realised this when I was dumped in the camp. I am enduring a life where I have to live in fear. 

It is remarkable how James Baldwin managed to describe so well the situation residents of Block 13 in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya are facing and have been experiencing for several years now. Soon, the Kenyan government wants to close down Kakuma camp entirely, according to Isa, another Block 13 resident. On 03/02/2022, after being asked what was happening these days, Isa replied:

UNHCR is gonna close the Kakuma refugees camp, but we as LGBTI don’t know what to do, because we have never got any chance to speak with UNHCR and to know the way forward or how they are gonna help us LGBTI, because we cannot go back to our country, they will kill us. And even when we try to email, the UNHCR does not reply (to) our emails so we are so confused we are worried…we don’t know what UNHCR is planning for us.

All residents of Block 13 are asking for is effective protection from vigilante attacks, which target them as LGBTI. Instead, rumours are circulated in the camp, including among other LGBTI people, that Block 13 residents attack and set fire to themselves. Since they suffer from being unable to protect even the children who are with them, focusing on accusations that they might attack and set fire, to themselves, is a pretty obvious way of avoiding responsibility. By failing to find and arrest the culprits, police add insult to injury.

Our conversations over the past year on Facebook have shown just how awful the on-going situation remains, and why they need support. UNHCR must stop accusing LGBT+ people of being at fault themselves. What is happening to refugees of Block 13 is deeply disturbing. Violence, the fires, stabbings, threats, messages of hatred. They have had to experience all that. Not one of these situations is something they can be held responsible for.

[1] James Baldwin (1963) The Fire Next Time, Michael Joseph: London: 105.


Submit a Comment