A 27-year-old LGBTQ man has committed suicide in Nairobi, highlighting the ongoing and desperate plight of LGBTQ refugees in Kenya.
According to reports, Aneste Mweru used a scarf to hang himself from a tree outside the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) office on Monday.
Other refugees told local media that Mweru had been struggling to survive after the agency and other organisations stopped giving them basic financial assistance. It’s alleged that he was brutally beaten by police when he asked for food at the UN office, which was closed for the Easter public holiday. He then took his own life.
It’s further claimed that Mweru’s body was left hanging from the tree for two hours before it was taken down. Pictures posted online appear to show that Mweru had bruises and injuries on his body, said to be from the police assault. He is survived by a son
“Since the outbreak of coronavirus, nobody is willing to help us because we understand even Kenyans themselves have little for themselves. Instead of UNHCR officials helping us at this time when everybody is in need of food, they chose to beat our friend,” said a Somali refugee.
Mweru was one of around 200 LGBTQ asylum seekers, many of whom fled from Uganda to Kenya and have been beaten and forced to endure appaling conditions and homophobic abuse. The asylum seekers have accused UNHCR of supporting or allowing police violence against them. Matters have now worsened in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions in Kenya.
“Much of the blame that has reduced most of us LGBTIQ refugees into such depression goes to the heartless fellows at UNHCR/RAS (Refugee Affairs Secretariat) who took away stipends that would protect us and left us in untold misery,” said the group Refugee Flag Kenya in a Facebook post. “Coupled with the Covid pandemic, hunger, home evictions many of our people have always contemplated or are contemplating suicide.”
The Refugee Coalition of East Africa wrote on Facebook that “the images of Aneste Mweru’s lifeless body speak at a volume greater than we can express, and clarify beyond words the plight of the LGBTQI refugee in East Africa.” It added: “Without knowing what was in his mind and heart, we can know that he was without hope, without options, and left in a state where he believed that to leave this world was preferable to existing under the circumstances of his life.”
According to UNHCR Kenya, Mweru sought asylum in Kenya in January 2017, and his refugee status was recognised by Kenyan authorities in March 2019. In a statement, the agency offered its condolences and called for calm and for the outcome of a police investigation into the incident.
“In this moment of terrible sorrow, we ask all who are aware of this tragic event, wherever you may be in the world, to respect the basic dignity of the deceased, and those who survive him, by desisting from circulating pictures taken at the scene of his death today, as well as any speculative, unconfirmed information which may further exacerbate existing tensions,” said UNHCR Kenya.