Ongoing violent attacks on LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees at Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya

August 25th, 2023 - written by: queersOfKakuma and

queersOfKakuma is a group of LGBTI+ activists living in Kakuma refugee camp. Together with members of, we wrote the following report about ongoing violent attacks on LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees, focusing on the general situation at Kakuma refugee camp and specifically on challenges of the LGBTI+ community and the international resettlement and externalization politics.

Content note: sexual and gendered violence, illness, precarity, death

Kakuma is a refugee camp established in 1992 and located in the north of Kenya near the border with Uganda and South Sudan as shows the map below. The camp is managed both by the Kenyan government (Department of Refugees Services - DRS) and UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees). According to UNHCR statistics, Kenya hosted in July 2023 636.034 refugees and asylum seekers, 269.545 (42,4%) in Dadaab, 270.273 (42,2%) in Kakuma and 96,206 (15,1%) in urban areas. A deadline to close Kenyas camps was already set by the Kenyan and Somalian governments, in a trilateral agreement with UNHCR, for 2016. Since then, the deadline was postponed on several occasions and the number of asylum seekers and refugees is growing as a result of violence in the region. When in 2016 war broke out in South Sudan thousands of South Sudanese women, especially, escaped across the border to Kakuma. Today, Kakuma has almost as many inhabitants as Dadaab and is the second-largest camp in the country.

Registered refugees and asylum seekers in Kenia, July 2023 (Source: Kenya Infographics and Statistics Package – 31 July 2023 by UNCHR)

Registered refugees and asylum seekers in Kenia, July 2023 (Source: Kenya Infographics and Statistics Package – 31 July 2023 by UNCHR)

Asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya face many challenges and living conditions are described as unbearable. The underfunding of the Kenyan branch of UNHCR (there has notably been a funding gap of 49% by the United Nations as of October 2022 according to UNHCR) directly affects the living conditions of asylum seekers and refugees at the Kakuma camp. For instance, "UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP) declared that they had 'never had such a terrible funding situation for refugees' in East Africa, WFP having reduced food rations for 417,000 camp-based refugees by 40% for lack of funding" (Amnesty International and NGLHRC report, p14). According to queersOfKakuma one adult person currently receives per month: 1 kg rice, 500g peas, 500g Sorghum and a little portion of cooking oil. Underfunding by UN also serves as an argument for the Kenyan government to threaten to close the refugee camps. Indeed, the lack of funding also results in less workers at the camp, which further delays asylum-seeking procedures.

LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees confronted to discrimination and violent attacks which stay unpunished

Kenya is the only country in the East and Horn of Africa to offer asylum to people who seek protection because of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expressions of sex gender identity. But in April 2023, Kenyan MP Peter Kaluma has been promoting the Family Protection Bill, which criminalizes sexual relations between two people of the same sex-gender. The Kenya 2021 Refugees Act mentions in Section 19(2): “a refugee or an asylum seeker engaging in a conduct that is in breach or is likely to result in a breach of public order or contrary to public morality under the law irrespective of whether the conduct is linked to his claim for asylum or not, may be expelled from Kenya by an order of the Cabinet Secretary.” Associated to the Family Protection Bill, it would give the possibility to the Kenyan government to expel asylum seekers and refugees on grounds that they violate Kenyan “public order” and “morality”.

The Kenyan Family Bill is similar to the situation in Uganda: in December 2013, the Ugandan parliament, with the support of President Yoweri Museveni, voted on an anti-homosexuality bill which also criminalizes sexual relations between adults of same sex-gender. This bill represents the explicit institutionalization of discrimination based on sex-gender orientation and expression which was already generally established in the Ugandan society, notably through the exclusion of LGBTI+ people from education and job such as described in Gitta Zomorodi's article. Since then, LGBTI+ Ugandans' life standards are threatened, like in other countries of the region, and perhaps soon by the Kenyan state, considering the Family Protection Bill. A member of queersOfKakuma states: "I don't have anywhere to go."

According to a UNHCR statement, Kakuma hosts about 300 refugees and asylum-seekers with an LGBTI+ profile. In addition to the challenges faced by all asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya, asylum seekers and refugees who are LGBTI+ encounter additional challenges linked to their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression and sex characteristics. An activist of queersOfKakuma explains the pain of being in the camp: "I'm living in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. I'm here to speak on behalf of my fellow Queers in Kakuma refugee camp. We were persecuted in our home country because of our sexuality. We managed to flee and seek for protection and safety but unfortunately, it's like we jumped from a frying pan to a fire. The situation here is very terrible. We are facing discrimination, segregation. The place is very homophobic and when it comes to the trans, it's worse." Another activist describes the concrete living conditions: "We are dying from hunger. We don't have medication, we don't have anything and more people should care. We are just living today and we don't know if we can live tomorrow [...] We are sleeping outside, we don't have mattresses, we don't have blankets, we don't have even covers." With Kenya's 2009 Refugee Regulation, LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees could benefit from fast-tracked procedures because they were considered as being “at risk”. However, since 2018, they have had to wait longer, to the point where it has been observed by Amnesty International and NGLHRC that procedures have specifically been delayed for LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees, which is, yet, another discrimination.

Besides, LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees often face verbal and physical violence and humiliation during procedures of registration. They explain that they have endured homophobic and sexist insults during their procedure. Hence, multiple LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees have purposefully decided not to disclose their LGBTI+ identity to state officers. This particularly excluded them from the fast-track procedure dedicated to populations “at risk” when it was possible. It also shows the strong distrust of state officers which has grown among the LGBTI+ community. This distrust is similarly caused by bad treatment from the police. The Kenyan police effectively rarely investigates discriminatory violence against LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees, who are regularly assaulted, beaten, raped. queersOfKakuma explain: "Here we live in open spaces which makes it easy for homophobic people to come and attack us and it has happened so many times. We lost lives of our colleagues and no reaction has been taken by the police and the UNHCR. So you see it's really unfair. We are unsafe."

Burning shelters of LGBTI+ asylum seekers in Kakuma Refugee Camp in 2021 (Photo: queersOfKakuma)

Burning shelters of LGBTI+ asylum seekers in Kakuma Refugee Camp in 2021 (Photo: queersOfKakuma)

Moreover, police officers can, themselves, be violent towards LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees. They intimidated activists who organised the pride march inside Kakuma notably by arresting them and exposing them to rape and sexual violence from other detainees, as discovered during Amnesty International and NGLHRC's investigation. QueersOfKakuma have also spoken of unfair arrestations: "Before we were sixty but four of us are in prison. They were imprisoned for nothing. They are in prison, we failed to collect money to get them out. Now it's two months. We don't have money, it's two thousand dollars for the people in prison."

In addition to this institutionalised violence, LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees have difficulties accessing health care because of important stigma from carers. It is, thus, often hard for them to access necessary medical treatments and care which are vital, especially after violent attacks and for those of them who are HIV-positive, as explained by queersOfKakuma: "When we go to hospitals [...] the hospitals tell us that we are not normal, we are devils."; "Some of us, two hundred and seven, they are positive, they have HIV. [...] they can't even afford to get access to vitamins, the ingredients which can support someone who is suffering, who is traumatized with HIV. Even getting the medication sometimes is very hard."

Also, children of LGBTI+ parents and children who identify themselves as LGBTI+ face violence in Kakuma refugee camp. The discrimination they experience in school stops them from attending. QueersOfKakuma explain: "We can't take our children to go to school in the camp. They will be discriminated against. They do miserable things to those kids but they are really innocent. They did not do anything. And if we can get an organization to support those kids to go to school and to get an uniform, bags and school fees, this would be very very wonderful."

As a protection measure, UNHCR and DRS have relocated some LGBTI+ refugees from Kakuma refugee camp, mostly to Nairobi and its environs. But the relocation to Nairobi is only allowed in exceptional cases and follows an opaque selection process, as the Kenyan government implements an encampment policy which restricts the freedom of movement (asylum seekers and refugees must seek permission to move from designated refugee areas to other locations in Kenya). Those who benefited from relocation also suffer from difficulties to access services and renewing their documents. Thus, internal relocation is not considered a solution. QueersOfKakuma report about the death of LGBTI+ relocated to Nairobi: "We lost our fellow queer. He was staying in Nairobi. He jumped from a flat. He lost hope, he lost everything and he was tired of his life because of homophobia. He requested justice, he was requesting support, he was begging support. He had nothing to eat. No one was caring for him, no one was there."

To recap, repatriation is very dangerous for LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees of the Kakuma camp, as they come from countries like Uganda which criminalizes and stigmatizes homosexual relationships; the “integration” of asylum seekers and refugees of the Kakuma camp in Kenya is unwanted by the Kenyan government and increasingly dangerous; and the needs of resettlement in other camps are greater than the space currently offered. The absence of dedicated help and institutional funding puts LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees in an extremely urgent situation.

Kenya's refugee camps in an international context

As mentioned, Kenya is the only country in the East and Horn of Africa to offer asylum to people who seek protection because of discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expressions of sex gender identity. This is questionable as Kenya is considered a safe country of origin – except LGBTI+ persons who are, according to a 2013 ruling of the European Court of Justice, entitled to asylum in the EU. Amnesty International and NGLHRC recommend third countries to increase opportunities for resettlement and complementary pathways for LGBTI+ asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya who need safety. In general, resettlement submissions always extend resettlement departures. According to UNHCR, by July 2023, out of 2,757 resettlement submissions, only 821 refugees were relocated.

Besides lacking opportunities for refugees to leave the camps for a safer third country, international support for asylum seekers and refugees remaining in Kenya is missing too. In October 2022 a funding gap of 49% was reported by UNHCR. Also, at the 2015 EU-Africa Migration Summit, Kenya was promised very little money from the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa: the EU has invested 28 million euros in agricultural projects and food security and 12 million euros in improving economic opportunities for young people in structurally weak areas. Also, the 6 million euros budget of the European Commissions Action Plan for mixed-migration flows and the 45 million euros spent in the context of the Khartoum process only marginally concern Kenya.

This is because, in terms of migration, Kenya remains uninteresting for the EU as it's far away from Europe. As mentioned in the Kenya Wiki, the Refugee Spokesperson for Dadaab states that many young men’s interest in migrating is affected by a lack of money as they would need more than 10,000 dollars to be able to reach the EU. It seems that the EU does not worry a lot about people from Kenya migrating to Europe and thus the country is not a focus for externalization policy. But there remains a call to the EU to support all vulnerable refugees in general, and so also to support LGBTI+ persons in Kenya. Just a few hundred relocations are not enough - especially for those who are left behind. And, as mentioned by Amnesty International and NGLHRC, all third countries are asked to increase pledges for ressettlement and complementary pathways as well as financial, material and technical support.

QueersOfKakuma and wrote this article to provide information. Besides, queersOfKakuma also urgently need food, medical treatments and shelters, which your donations can help them access. You can find more information on queersOfKakuma's Twitter account:


Cover picture: LGBTI+ asylum seekers sleeping outside in Kakuma refugee camp after their shelters were destroyed in 2021; for safety reasons, they have moved to another block and have been sleeping outside until today (Photo: queersOfKakuma)