A group of desperate LGBTI refugees have been protesting for the last two days outside the offices of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Nairobi.
According to Fierse Hydary Aidan, Executive Director of Youth Uplift Uganda, the peaceful protest aimed to draw attention to their longstanding and increasingly dire plight.
The refugees say they fled to Kenya from Uganda to escape persecution because of their sexuality or gender identity. Many are now homeless, living on the streets and are going hungry. They also claim to often be victims of police harassment and extortion.
The group have been holding up placards with statements including: “LGBTI are also humans”, “Kenya ain’t safe for LGBTI” and “We need financial stipend and medical attention.”
Many of the LGBTI refugees were initially housed in massive camps alongside other refugees and were often abused and discriminated against. This led to most leaving the camps, which in any case have now been threatened with closure by the Kenyan government.
The UNHCR and other agencies have been accused of taking too long to resettle the refugees in other countries, a process that can take years. The agencies, however, argue that the task is a mammoth one and resources are limited.
In the meantime, the refugees are forced to wait and try to make ends meet without work, medical care or a place to live.
“This is a protest that is saying, simply, ‘please help us to survive,’” Kenyan LGBTI rights activists Denis Nzioka told Gay Star News.
“They have no papers so they cannot legally work. They are sitting and cannot move forward. All of the agencies are saying their hands are tied. But the LGBTIs are vocal, and courageous, and are pleading for basic human needs: food, shelter, clothing and medical care,” he said.
According to US based activist Melanie Nathan, there are around 300 LGBTI refugees in Kenya awaiting relocation. While most are from Uganda some are also from Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia and the DRC.