YHEPP Analyses the LGBTI Immigrant Dilemma in Nairobi vs. UNHCR’s Role

UHCR-LogoYouth Health and Psycho-social Support Programs, YHEPP has  released a seventeen page document titled Victims of a Created Suffering. The document analyses the role of the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the native LGBTQ community in addressing key challenges affecting the forced LGBTI migrants in Nairobi.

According to Emmanuel  Odhiambo,  the Youth Coordinator YHEPP, one of the main objectives of the project was to ensure that the Nairobi based LGBTI youth aged between 18 and 27 were socially alright and had the right mindset to face the socio-economic challenges fueled by today’s homophobic society.

The released document stats that Kenya is host to over half a million forced immigrants. A large number of these immigrants live in the Dadaab refugee camp in the North, while a relatively smaller population has preferred to stay in the urban center of Nairobi for personal safety, among other reasons. Among them are forced lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrants from Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda –a substantial number are youth who receive partial psycho-social support from the UNHCR –Nairobi mission and some of her friends. Like several other African countries, same-sex conduct remains criminalized in Kenya despite being party to constitutional and international agreements that stand for non-discrimination and equality.

It however also notes that Nairobi, is not the safest of cities in the region as there are attacks (organized and random) against native LGBT youth. There is a substantial level of lawlessness that feeds abuse of rights by authorities; where LGBT youth, and those perceived to be, are often arbitrarily arrested, extorted and locked up beyond constitutional time.

In a detailed section of the document is what YHEPP has termed as Ugandaphobia- which is a fear or dislike fro LGBTI immigrants from Uganda. Today, many LGBT immigrant youth still have issues with the emergency response lines. The system still remains generally ambiguous as more immigrants arrive for protection; some LGBT immigrant youth reported that when they called and identified themselves as of Ugandan origin, they noticed a change of attitude and tough talk from the receiver’s end –with an expression cynicism.

Worthy of noting however is the fact that LGBT immigrant youths from Uganda have been more outspoken about their challenges. Generally speaking, the Ugandan immigrant community is relatively more informed on the asylum system, fluent in English and outgoing. It is therefore easier to understand them and respond to their challenges even faster. But, Uganda is not the only country where LGBT immigrant youth come from. Others include Somali, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Burundi, Congo, and South Sudan among others. Of all these, the Congolese LGBT youth stand out as relatively shy, with their main language being French among other native languages like banyamulenge. The practice of these two languages in Nairobi neighborhoods is rare and so, LGBT youth of Congolese origin have limited access to information and live a systemically challenged social life.

It should also be realized that the asylum regime in Nairobi led by the UNHCR has done a lot to protect asylum seekers and refugees who; are fleeing persecution on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. It is also true, that there has been an influx of those seeking protection on this ground(s). This has destabilized parts of the protection system and both sides (the asylum protection system and a section of the LGBT immigrants) live in a situation where, they do not know what comes next. We have seen and experienced this during arrests, demonstrations, through open protest letters, warning letters and systemic adjustments. For too long the UNHCR and some of her allies have reiterated that most of the most outspoken immigrants are; either not realistic, too much or not appreciating the privileges that come with their protection needs.