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
UNHCR and Kenyan Gay Rights organisations must finally really listen to what Block 13 refugees are saying, before it is too late. This blog is a plea to UNHCR to provide the protection it is mandated to provide, for this group as bona fide refugees. Block 13 residents deserve to be as safe from attacks and discrimination as any other refugees. When we published a previous blog on this issue we received this feedback from Jones Graham:
“Thanks again for this support you are unendingly offering us…my comrades this side are so much pleased. We have shared the blog so widely and we are getting a catch up that is so strong”.
Further blogs have been published since then, including one on the fire of August 2021. The photos illustrate its devastating effects. Isa wrote in August and said: “…everything was set on fire no shelters even my mattress blanket mosquito nets clothes…nothing is left”. A video that was recorded some months before the arson attack, in April 2021, showed a homophobic man threatening a member of Block 13 LGBT+ community. Since the sound quality in the video is poor, Jones Graham has helped to transcribe it. The video can be seen here:
Lucretia: Our kids aren’t violent.
Homophobic man: Even you, you can’t talk to me.
Lucretia: Why can’t I talk to you?
Homophobic man: You can’t talk to me. I will burn you alive. I will burn you alive! Don’t talk to me. You should be ashamed talking to me. I am not afraid of police. Call the police because that’s the only thing you do. Call the police!
This man, who threatened Block 13 residents that he would burn them alive, is still walking around free, even though his threat was captured on video. Unfortunately, this was not the end of the matter, for as Jones told us at the start of this blog, the man in the video was now responsible for Block 13 security. The very same man who threatened to burn the community down. How could this happen?
Even after all this hatred, the fire and many injuries that Block 13 residents have experienced, the refugees of Block 13 continue to preach love and peace, tolerance and understanding. They do not want to seek revenge or become hateful like those who persecute them. They ask for love, solidarity, a community based on care, dialogue to education the local and refugee population, and above all to be left in peace. They look to UNHCR for genuine protection, and wish the police would arrest the suspects who threaten and attack LGBTI people in the camp. Above all, they want to be safe. Is that too much to ask? The last word will go to Gilbert Kagarura, spokesperson, who said in a speech:
Wherever you are in the world, we the persons living at block 13 in Kakuma Refugee Camp Kenya, would like to thank the world but especially the rainbow family and all the well-wishers that have and are still coming out to condemn the attacks on us because of our sexual orientations, sexual identity, and expression. We fled our respective countries because of…attacks of this kind…perpetrated by our families, the communities around us and encouraged by unfavourable government laws….Not only has UNHCR remained silent, more recently they have also assumed the role of accusers. They have denied until now that any homophobia, transphobia or xenophobia exists in Kakuma Refugee Camp. By denying the existence of these vices, UNHCR implies that they have no obligation to rescue us, and continue to pretend that all is well…This is shocking given that their mandate is to offer protection for all refugees… we’d like to categorically suggest that we do not consider UNHCR an enemy, we rather implore them to offer us protection by evacuating us from this horrible situation that we now find ourselves in…We don’t to lose more LGBTQ persons in this country. Ernest Mweru lost his life in this place, may his soul rest in peace. Let that be enough, please UNHCR we call on you to evacuate us.
Instead of arresting LGBTI+ refugees for attacking themselves, or setting fire to one another, police should find those responsible. UNHCR should not allow those who threatened homophobic violence themselves, on record to take responsibility for Block 13’s security. The ‘gay-baiting’ is still evident, and mostly remains unpunished. We hope we never again have to read something like what happened in August 2021, when:
4 LGBTQ activists from Block 13 in Kakuma Refugee Camp have been arrested and detained by police in Kakuma this evening. Victims of homophobia, transphobia and police intimidation and brutality, the 4 refugee activists are being detained on issues related to the recent arson attack at Block 13. They were picked from Block 13 under the guise of a meeting with UNHCR and were instead detained. This is not the first time that UNHCR and or police in Kakuma punishes the victims for the abuse and violations that they face.
After a call for their release, the 4 were eventually released, but police have yet to investigate this arson attack on Block 13, which left residents sleeping on the ground for weeks with no shelter. The Block 13 refugees themselves believe evacuation to a safe place, away from Kakuma, is the only safe and sustainable solution for their vulnerable position. They no longer wish to be sitting ducks for homophobes. They want justice both inside and eventually outside Kakuma.