Dozens of LGBT+ refugees in Kenya fall sick at U.N. shelter

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 24 January 2019 14:55 GMT

An Ethiopian asylum seeker builds a temporary structure in the Dambala Fuchana refugee camp near the Ethiopian-Kenyan border town of Moyale, Kenya, March 27, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

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The U.N. moved about 200 LGBT+ refugees in December to the abandoned school on Nairobi's outskirts from the remote Kakuma camp where they were facing attacks

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI, Jan 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Dozens of LGBT+ refugees living in a shelter run by the United Nations in Kenya were taken to hospital after falling sick on Thursday, days after they complained of overcrowding and poor sanitation at the facility.

About 40 refugees - including three children - were treated at a hospital on the outskirts of Nairobi after suffering vomiting, diarrhea and severe stomach cramps early on Thursday, refugee representatives said.

"At the hospital, we were put on drips and given some tablets, but the doctor refused to tell us what was wrong with us and what caused this outbreak," said Mbazira Moses from Refugee Flag Kakuma, a group representing the LGBT+ refugees.

"We believe it is because the place is dirty with overflowing toilets and poor hygiene. We have been telling the UNHCR (United Nations refugee agency) for so many days of this unbearable situation."

The U.N. moved about 200 LGBT+ refugees - mainly from Uganda but also Burundi, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo - in December to the abandoned school on Nairobi's outskirts from the remote Kakuma camp where they were facing attacks.

Earlier this month, the refugees complained to the UNHCR that the shelter had only six toilets for 200 people, which were blocked, warning of the spread of diseases.

But the UNHCR said the outbreak was not linked to conditions at the shelter.

"Samples were analysed for bacterial infection, including cholera, and were found to be negative," Yvonne Ndege, UNHCR Kenya's spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Samples have been sent for further analysis to the national government laboratory. The assessment team did not establish any connection between the conditions at facility and the diarrhea."

The Thomson Reuters Foundation was unable to verify conditions at the shelter or meet directly with the refugees as they are not permitted to leave facility or receive visitors. U.N. officials say this is for their own security.

The UNHCR said the shelter was an emergency measure and they were in the process of finding more suitable accommodation - but did not give a time frame on when it would happen.

African countries have some of the most prohibitive laws against homosexuality in the world. Gay sex is punishable with up to 14 years in jail in Kenya. The law is rarely enforced but discrimination is widespread.

Kenya's LGBT+ refugees need speedy resettlement in another country where they can be free and safe, say rights groups, but this can take years as most Western nations do not prioritise sexual minorities when considering asylum requests. (Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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