Investigation after gay refugee found dead at U.N. refugee office in Kenya

by Nita Bhalla | @nitabhalla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 13 April 2020 19:39 GMT

Muthoni Ngige, a member the Kenyan LGBTQ community pays tribute to the victims of the mass shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, U.S., in Kenya's capital Nairobi June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

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Gay sex is illegal in Kenya, with punishment of up to 14 years in prison

By Nita Bhalla

NAIROBI, April 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A gay refugee in Kenya was found dead outside the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) office in Nairobi on Monday in an apparent suicide, Kenyan police and LGBT+ refugees groups said.

Police spokesman Charles Owino said the body of a 25-year-old Ugandan national was found outside the UNHCR office in the affluent Westlands suburb early on Monday.

LGBT+ refugees face a precarious existence in the predominantly conservative Christian nation. It can take more than five years to be granted refugee status, during which time asylum seekers cannot work.

"We have to do an inquest into the cause of the death and it has to go before a magistrate, but from early indications it looks like suicide," Owino told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

LGBT+ rights groups said the Ugandan's death highlighted the need for increased support for sexual minority refugees in the east African country, with estimates of more than 750 LGBT+ refugees in Kenya, mainly from Uganda.

Fathiaa Abdalla, UNHCR representative in Kenya, said in a statement that the organisation was "profoundly shocked and saddened by the tragic death and apparent suicide" of the refugee and it was cooperating with the police investigation.

"UNHCR is also in regular contact with the refugee community and relevant authorities to ensure that any required support is provided," Abdalla said.

LGBT+ refugees who knew the deceased, including Mbazira Moses from Refugee Flag Kenya, a LGBT+ refugee rights group, said the man was depressed because he had no money and had gone to the UNHCR to seek help.

Gay sex is punishable with up to 14 years in jail in Kenya although the law is rarely enforced.

The secretariat of the Refugee Coalition of East Africa said they understood the desperation of being without resources.

"We fiercely implore those in power and with resources to help, to step forward and up, to do what is right, and to make a difference for the LGBTQI refugees still here in Kenya," the coalition said in a statement.

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(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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