Fury at UNHCR as burned Kakuma LGBTQIA+ refugee dies
Activists slam the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) after Kakuma Camp LGBTQIA+ refugee and human rights defender Chriton ‘Trinidad’ Atuhwera dies from burns sustained in a homophobic attack.
The 22-year-old had been in critical condition in an ill-equipped hospital for weeks after he was burned when a petrol bomb was thrown into a group of LGBTQIA+ refugees, allies and their children who live in Block 13 in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya.
Trinidad was one of two residents burned in the 15 March attack, which was one of many ongoing violent incidents perpetrated against LGBTQ refugees in the camp.
According to reports, Trinidad spent much of the time at Kenyatta National Hospital tied to his bed, unable to access food, given that the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) prevented his caregiver from accompanying him to the hospital. This weakened him severely leading to the need for him to be on a feeding tube.
Activists had pleaded for the UNHCR, the authorities and others to organise the medical evacuation of both Trinidad and the other victim, Jordan, to a safe country where they could receive the necessary specialised medical care to save their lives.
Tragically, on Monday, Trinidad – who’d fled his homeland of Uganda to avoid LGBTQ persecution – succumbed to his injuries and died.
“Our Trinidad was gifted at his studies. He studied history, economics, divinity, literature and he excelled in writing his own poetry; poetry that spoke to the struggles he faced as a member of the LGBTQ+ community,” said a coalition of activist groups in a statement.
“He loved volleyball and the music of, especially, Miriam Makeba. He was unable to continue his degree in Business administration after his sexual orientation became exposed, and he was forced to flee.”
The groups said that Trinidad’s death was “avoidable” and that he and Jordan had suffered inhumane treatment both from medical staff as well as the UNHCR.
Below is an extract of a statement issued by Block 13 of Kakuma Refugee Camp, The Victor Mukasa Show, JASS (Just Associates Southern Africa) Southern Africa, the Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), the Triangle Project, Global Interfaith Network, Black Immigrant Collective (BIC) and the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project (BLMP):
“Trinidad’s life and human dignity were subjected to attrition and a slow death. As an LGBTQ+ refugee, he experienced rejection, criminalisation and forced displacement from his homeland of Uganda to Kakuma Refugee Camp, where he was subjected to relentless homophobic violence including seven attacks on his body in just one year. He was stabbed; stoned and burned on multiple occasions. Add to that the abject conditions of the camp, particularly for LGBTQ+ people, and the ongoing campaign by the UNHCR and its allies to discredit and dismiss Block 13 community members organising for their dignity and safety.
Each time Trinidad and the broader Kakuma LGBTQ+ community pleaded for help, UNHCR consistently spun a narrative that blamed and silenced the survivors for the violence they endured. Operating at the core of UNHCR’s narrative appears to be the belief that LGBTQ+ community members like Trinidad are disposable and not worthy of protection and care.
Fundamental for us, is to affirm unequivocally that the treatment of LGBTQ+ refugees as disposable is intolerable and grotesque. The disregard of their traumas, the silencing of their voices and the many forms of violence that are being dismissed by the Agency and their allies are contrary to a ‘rights-based’ approach, and tantamount to persecution and secondary victimisation.
Today, as we mourn the passing of our dear brother and comrade, we direct our grief and rage at the UNHCR, who continue to marginalise Kakuma LGBTQ+ refugees like Trinidad and Jordan rather than fulfil their mandate “to aid and protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities, and stateless people, and to assist in their voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country.”
We are disgusted at the Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) who choose to participate in UNHCR’s campaign of misinformation and abnegation of duty, rather than engaging in transformative solidarity with Block 13 and LGBTQ+ refugees at Kakuma. These NGOs actively work to dismiss our calls/pleas/demands to save lives and evacuate Block 13 despite the escalation of homophobic and transphobic violence they have seen over the last year. Whilst we call for ethical and responsible allyship, we will also not hesitate to call out anyone who undermines our efforts to FreeBlock13.
In light of our brother’s death, we demand the UNHCR, who failed in their responsibility to care for our much-loved brother, not block our efforts to treat him with the dignity and respect he deserves and ensure that he is repatriated to his homeland for proper burial in line with his tradition and culture.
Contrary to the latest statement by UNHCR Kenya which claimed that Jordan, another victim of the March 15 attack, has been treated adequately and is fit for discharge, his life is still on the brink and his condition dire. We demand UNHCR arrange for him to be medically evacuated to a safe 3rd country equipped with a competent burn unit.
The lives of LGBTQ+ refugees at Kakuma are still in danger. We urge the UNHCR to relocate them to a safe location outside the camp before another body is brutalised or another life lost. In the meantime, as Block 13 refugees contend with the grief of losing a dear comrade, we demand that neither the police nor security agents at the Camp further criminalise the activists or cause continued trauma to the community.”
To donate to the burn victims’ fund, email Shanice@triangle.org.za. A petition has also been set up calling for the UNHCR and others to assist and relocate the LGBTQ+ refugees from Kakuma Camp.
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