Refugees face unimaginable suffering. And LGBTQ+ refugees face more than most. As many of my readers know, Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, is one of the largest refugee camps in the world. It holds more than 200,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from various African countries. The LGBTQ+ refugees there have faced savage violence for several years. Many of them live in a section of the camp called Block 13. There are LGBTQ+ refugees throughout Kakuma but more 100 live in Block 13. They are women, men children, bi, gay, and transgender people. They have been attacked with machetes, ignored by the security forces who are supposed to protect them. They have been burned, beaten, and abused. As recently as March 15, 2021, two young men, Jordan and Chriton, were set afire as they slept. They were finally evacuated to a hospital in Nairobi where they remain with serious burns. After repeated attempts to get the UNHCR to relocate and evacuate them, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has not moved them or made them safe in Kakuma. There is a growing international effort to show the world what is happening to them and to secure their safety. This week, April 7-13, is Free Block 13 Week of Action, an opportunity to tell some of their stories. I want to use my blog and my voice to share the stories of two refugees I have come to know: Isa and Deo.
Isa is a 38 year-old man who lives in Block 13 at Kakuma Camp. I have come to know him as a gentle, religious, and peaceful person. He cares deeply about those around him and the plight of all the LGBTQ+ refugees. He was born in Jinja, Uganda, and when he was 13, his father discovered him to be gay. He was tortured by his father and his neighbors. He was beaten and abandoned, at 13. He went to the Wakiso District of Uganda where he ended up living on the streets. While there, he was with a lover and seen by that person’s mother. He knew his life was in danger and so he fled to Kakuma Camp from there. While in Kakuma, Isa has been stabbed, beaten, and abused by other refugees. Isa deserves a life. He deserves a chance to work, love, and savor the life he has. He deserves education, a career, and chance to develop into the full human he can become. In Block 13, he does not have this chance. His life is in constant danger and this is not right.
Deo is a 24 year-old man who has faced more suffering in his young life than most of us will ever know. As a teenager, at St. Anthony’s Kayuga, in Uganda’s Masaka District, Deo was with a boyfriend when people at the school caught them. They were locked in a school room overnight and then paraded before the entire school the next day. The police were called and they were beaten severely. His mother came and publicly disowned him. His father was already deceased so Kyalimpa was entirely alone. He was beaten for a week and was finally taken to Masaka’s main hospital where he spent three days. No one was ever held accountable for assaulting him. He was homeless for a time, in Masaka, working odd jobs. A friend taught him to bake and he met another young man and together they shared a room. In 2018, returning to his room, the police were beating his friend and so Deo ran. The police shot him in the leg. He was hospitalized for a month before being put in Luzira Prison where he was held for 8 months without charges. They were released in 2019 and they separated. He was on the streets again. Many times he was beaten and when the house where he lived with other LGBTQ+ youth was set afire, Deo was burned and he spent two weeks recovering in the hospital. Deo knew if he stayed in Uganda, he would die. His boyfriend had a plan to escape to South Africa so he gave Deo what money he had and Deo used those funds to get to Nairobi where he slept first in the police station, then outside the UNHCR offices. From there, he was taken to Kakuma Refugee Camp. Since coming to Kakuma, Deo has been beaten several times by other refugees. He has also since learned that his first boyfriend from high school was killed with his partner. His friend, Jordan, was one of the young men set afire just last March 15, 2021 in Kakuma. Like Isa, and the many other LGBTQ+ refugees in Kakuma, Deo is a religious man and a devoted Christian. But he deserves a life. He deserves a chance to grow, learn, contribute, and love. But he needs immediate evacuation and resettlement in a place where is a safe and secure for the first time in his young life.
How can you help?
- Call or write to the UNHCR and demand the immediate evacuation of Block 13 to a safe place. UNHCR, Washington, DC Office: 1800 Massachusetts Ave, NW, #500, Washington, D.C. 20036.
- Follow Victor Mukasa on Facebook and watch his many videos about the plight of Block 13, Kakuma. You can also reach him at email@example.com
- Call or write your US Senator or Representative, if you have one. The Capitol switchboard number is 202-224-3121. You can ask for your senator’s office from there. Write your senator at Office of Senator ________, United States Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510
- Call or write your local newspaper and ask them to cover the plight of Block 13 refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp. Refer them to Gilbert Kagarura via firstname.lastname@example.org
- Read anything you can about the plight of refugees around the world, especially about LGBTQ+ refugees who face so much danger.
The photograph above was taken in Block 13 of Kakuma Refugee Camp. Pictured there are, from Left to Right: Umar, Benon, and Kyalimpa.