Nairobi — Many of the more than 750 LGBT+ refugees in Kenya are forced to live in the shadows and pushed to the brink due to a lack of protection, safe housing and employment
Scores of LGBT+ refugees are in desperate need of emergency shelter after facing homophobic threats, violence and eviction warnings from community members in a Nairobi slum, the refugees and human rights campaigners said on Tuesday.
The 76 LGBT+ refugees - mostly from Congo but also from Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, Ethiopia and South Sudan - have been living in cramped rooms in the informal settlement in the Kenyan capital since April.
The group, which includes at least 20 children, moved to Nairobi from a refugee camp seeking better protection and ended up in the slum, where they said they had been harassed, insulted and even physically attacked.
"The landlord told us that we should leave by Wednesday. But this is not even our country. We have nowhere to go," said Paul, 29, whose full name is being withheld for his protection.
"The people here threaten and insult us. They say we are spreading disease and teaching their children to be homosexuals," said Paul, who fled his home in Democratic Republic of Congo almost 10 years ago facing persecution.
"They said either we go, or they will kill us. We are so scared to leave our rooms. At night, we take turns to stand guard."
Some of the refugees received a stipend from a local charity, but they said it was not enough to live on and they were unable to get work due to discrimination or a lack of documentation allowing them to work.
Refugee representatives and LGBT+ activists said they were trying to raise funds for emergency accommodation, but time was running out and they were concerned local mobs may try and attack the refugees if they did not leave soon.
The U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said it was concerned about the situation and was working with local charities to support the refugees.
"Currently, community-based organisations are assisting to identify various alternative housing options to allow the group to split in smaller groups," said Dana Hughes, UNHCR's regional spokesperson.
"UNHCR consistently advises LGBTI refugees on areas that are known to be safe and where they can relocate into the wider community. For security reasons, we advise refugees to remain in safe neighbourhoods, and in small groups."
African countries have some of the most prohibitive laws against homosexuality in the world, with punishments ranging from imprisonment to death.
Although gay sex is punishable with up to 14 years in jail in Kenya, the law is rarely enforced. The east African nation is seen as more tolerant than neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania, but the LGBT+ community still faces discrimination.
Many of the more than 750 LGBT+ refugees in Kenya - predominantly from Uganda - are forced to live in the shadows and pushed to the brink due to a lack of protection, safe housing and employment.
LGBT+ rights groups said the situation was "indicative of the greater failure by the Kenyan government and UNHCR services to adequately provide for LGBTQI refugees in the region".
"Very few are receiving any form of financial assistance, medical care is impossible due to the cost of transportation and fear of using the local medical facilities," said a statement from the Refugee Coalition of East Africa.
"Many identifying as transgender stated they have not left their rooms in several months. Anti-LGBTQI violence is the norm, and housing discrimination is common and permitted without any method of recourse."
Kenya's LGBT+ refugees need safe housing, adequate funds and documentation allowing them to work, said rights groups, but ultimately they need speedy resettlement in another country where they can be free and safe.
UNHCR officials said the majority of LGBT+ refugees were receiving financial assistance in line with other vulnerable urban refugees.
Third country settlement is a good solution, they added, but it can take years as most nations do not prioritise sexual minorities when considering asylum requests.
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Claire Cozens.)