LGBTQ refugees suffer grave rights abuses in Kakuma camp, Amnesty says

Kakuma 1 Refugee Camp

Kakuma Refugee Camp, located along Kenya's border with Somalia, as pictured on June 10, 2018. 

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya are victims of severe hate crimes and abuses, including rape, says a report released Friday by Amnesty International and a Nairobi-based gay rights group.

Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya hosts more than 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers, including hundreds of LGBTQ people who experience "extreme discrimination and violence", Amnesty and the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC) said in a statement.

Perpetrators are able to "commit their crimes with almost total impunity, enabled by inaction on the part of the authorities", they added.

Researchers interviewed 41 people between 2018 and February 2023 who described facing "hate crimes, violence, including rape, and other serious human rights abuses". 

Esther, a 41-year-old lesbian, told researchers she was raped twice in 2018 in the camp, the first time by two men threatening her with a knife, and the second time by four men during a burglary "in the presence of her seven-year-old son".

Another lesbian Winnie said her shop was destroyed by vandals who also injured one of her children. She said police had done little to help her apprehend those responsible.

Such incidents showed that the camp, which is run by the Kenyan government, was "not yet safe for asylum seekers and refugees" who are LGBTQ, said Amnesty and NGLHRC.

'Harassment, violence'

The community faces "discrimination as well as homophobic and transphobic attitudes from government officials, the police and other service providers," said Irungu Houghton, Amnesty's executive director for Kenya.

"This is often reflected in delays to the processing of their asylum claims, harassment, violent homophobic attacks, threats, and intimidation, and extremely limited opportunities for local integration or third-country resettlement."

Kenya's government must "urgently ensure the physical and psychological safety" of all LGBTQ asylum seekers and refugees in the Kakuma camp, they added.

The report comes as the LGBTQ community finds itself under attack in Kenya and neighbouring countries, with governments and politicians taking an increasingly harsh line on same-sex activity.

Kenyan President William Ruto, a born-again Christian elected last August, declared in March that same-sex marriages could "happen in other countries but not in Kenya".

Homosexuality was a Western import that Kenya's "customs, traditions, Christianity and Islam cannot allow", he said.

Gay sex is a crime under colonial-era laws in the East African nation. Penalties include prison terms of up to 14 years.

Nevertheless Kenya is the only nation in East Africa and the Horn region to offer "asylum to individuals who seek protection because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression and sex characteristics", Amnesty and NGLHRC said.