This statement is in response to a number of inquiries we have received on the overall situation of LGBTIQ+ refugees in Kakuma refugee camp and a security incident that took place on 15 March 2021.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, remains deeply committed to the protection of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Queer (LGBTIQ+) refugees and asylum-seekers across the world, including in Kenya.
In recent years, UNHCR has invested heavily in building capacity and ensuring more attention is paid to the specific and profound challenges that LGBTIQ+ people face. We have also closely followed up the situation in Kakuma refugee camp, which hosts about 300 refugees and asylum-seekers with an LGBTIQ+ profile and stepped up our services on the ground.
Despite the challenges of life in a refugee camp, the overwhelming majority report to us that they have been able to live peacefully within the Kakuma community. This comes in stark contrast with reports of security incidents, including on social media, by a small group of refugees with an LGBTIQ+ profile residing in Kakuma 3, who are requesting urgent resettlement out of Kenya.
We are concerned by these incidents as well as by the increasing tensions between this group and other refugees, including some with an LGBTIQ+ profile. Several have reported being threatened or attacked by members of this particular group for refusing to join protests or lend their voice to the call for urgent resettlement on security grounds.
UNHCR’s sole objective is to ensure the protection of all refugees. We have undertaken, together with Kenya’s Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS) and partner organizations, a number of initiatives in an attempt to address this complex and tense situation.
In addition to increased police patrols in Kakuma 3, medical, legal and psycho-social assistance has been strengthened in the camp. RAS, UNHCR and partners have also held meetings with community leaders in Kakuma 3 to identify solutions and reduce tensions, although the smaller group of LGBTIQ+ persons has declined to engage in these dialogues. We hope that they will change views and agree to engage.
Furthermore, over the past several months over 30 individuals with an LGBTIQ+ profile have been relocated from Kakuma 3 to other parts of the camp based on the protection concerns raised by them and following careful assessment by our teams on the ground.
UNHCR does not tolerate discrimination or any form of violence against refugees, including violence committed by other refugees, and works with law enforcement and other branches of government in Kenya to ensure that refugees are protected and safe.
Despite these efforts, on 15 March 2021, two refugees suffered burn injuries in a fire following an alleged arson attack in Kakuma 3 where they resided. UNHCR organized their transfer to a regional hospital in Lodwar and, following expert advice from burn specialists, to a Nairobi hospital. Both are receiving specialized treatment for their burns and progress in their recovery is being closely monitored by the local medical team and a UNHCR doctor.
We strongly condemn this senseless violence. We have been advised that the ongoing investigation by Kenyan police is progressing and we hope that it will bring full clarity in respect of this incident and that those responsible will be held to account in accordance with Kenyan law.
Resettlement departures, which slowed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are progressively picking up. Despite the generosity of some states, resettlement needs globally remain far greater than the actual number of spaces available. This means that priority will continue to be given to those who need it most, including survivors of torture or sexual and gender-based violence, and unaccompanied minors. Many refugees with an LGBTIQ+ profile have, based on their individual circumstances, been resettled from Kenya over the years. Since 2019, some 235 refugees with this profile have been submitted for resettlement, of whom 48 per cent have departed.
UNHCR will continue to work closely with all partners to ensure that those who need it most are put forward for resettlement, while also advocating for more resources and resettlement places for vulnerable refugees. In addition, we welcome and encourage private sponsorship programmes and related initiatives from civil society groups based outside of Kenya.
Kenya currently hosts more than 512,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, including an estimated 1,000 LGBTIQ+ refugees. It remains the only country in the region to provide asylum to those fleeing persecution based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.