Located in the North-western region of Kenya, the Kakuma Refugee Camp was established in 1992, following the influx of the ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’- a group of over 30,000 Sudanese children that fled their country due to civil unrest (UNHCR, Undated). Over the past few decades, Kakuma has housed refugees from neighbouring countries such as Ethiopia, Congo, Somalia, and Uganda, increasingly the camp’s population to approximately 180,000 (Rethinking the Future, Undated; Relief Web, 2022).

Although many have sought peace and solace in Kakuma, there has been a significant increase in refugees that have fled their homes due to discrimination against their sexuality. Whilst Kakuma is considered a ‘safe haven’ for the majority of residents and is the only country in the region that provides protection for those facing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the camp has faced numerous allegations of violence and abuse towards the 0.5% of LGBTQ+ occupants. The main operators of the Kakuma Camp, otherwise known as the UNHCR, have since commented on these growing attacks, including an alleged arson attack resulting in two refugees being transferred to specialised burn treatment units in Nairobi hospitals (UNHCR, 2021). These attacks have resulted in groups being relocated to other parts of the camp for protection. Although many consider this statement from the UNHCR to be a positive step in the fight against discrimination, the UNHCR have failed to comment on the police brutality against the LGBTQ+ community and have ironically boosted police ‘protection’ to diminish any risks of further persecution towards marginalised communities.

Taking a Stand

As the Kenyan government has been restricting journalists from entering the Kakuma Camp and the surrounding area, there has been limited insights and awareness on the true conditions of the camp. Despite these boundaries, I have become acquainted with a 22-year-old who wishes to remain anonymous through LinkedIn.

They are currently residing in the Kakuma Refugee Camp, fleeing from his home country of Uganda due to being outed as gay and faced high risks of being jailed or killed due to his sexuality. After facing various homophobic experiences and death threats from his father, they fled Uganda and registered as an asylum seeker via the Kenyan government in 2020. He has resided in the Kakuma Refugee Camp ever since. Not only had they faced tensions and disownment within his family due to the clash of his sexuality and their religious beliefs, the political foundations of Uganda also made a hard stance on demonising the LGBTQ+ community.

In 2014, Uganda had imposed a ‘Kill the Gays’ bill, allowing overt discrimination and prosecution against the LGBTQ+ community. The criminalisation of homosexuality, reinforced by President Yoweri Museveni, has reached extreme levels of punishment, with the enforcement of life imprisonment and the death penalty for those accused of ‘aggravated homosexuality’ (Reuters, 2019).

The following questions have been answered in order to spread awareness on this emerging, yet supressed, issue amongst the LGBTQ+ community.

What forms of discrimination do you face in the refugee camp?

The LGBTQ+ community face discrimination from several groups; the Kenyan police, natives, and fellow heterosexual refugees. We are refused service in hospitals, market centres and even water points. Getting an education has also become challenging as we cannot enter schools or institutions without facing risks of being attacked or discriminated.

The LGBTQ+ refugees in Kakuma are currently living in extremely hostile, violent, and homophobic conditions. We are being persecuted, beaten, stabbed with machetes, gang raped, and burned alive by homophobic groups of men. We have fled our countries of origin from homophobic persecution, murder, and imprisonment. In the camp we’ve found these violent and inhumane conditions more dangerous than the countries we’ve fled from.

Although we have fallen victim to countless horrific attacks, we are the ones that are forced to pay expensive medical costs for the injuries we have sustained- from broken limbs and third-degree burns, to severe head injuries. As the police do not protect us, we are forced to take nightly shifts standing guard against attacks such as stoning, fire bombing, being burned alive, beaten, slashed and raped. These are not isolated incidents; this is the reality of our daily life. We receive no counselling services for the trauma we are suffering.

These events are not new; in 2021, our shelters were set alight and destroyed, resulting in a death of a fellow refugee.

Can you access medicine or funds?

Due to the discrimination and homophobia we face in the hospitals, it is incredibly difficult to obtain medication. In terms of earning a wage, many LGBTQ+ refugees are shunned by employers and those who are granted a job are quickly fired after they are revealed to be gay.

Due to these struggles, many refugees cannot acquire basic materials such as food, medication, and clothes. Some LGBTQ+ refugees have turned to sex work as a last resort, exposing them to increased homophobia and sexually transmitted diseases, further putting their lives at risk.

Have refugees attempted to flee from the camp?

In November this year, several LGBTQ+ had decided to escape the camp due to increased hostility, however their plan was thwarted, and they were attacked and teargassed by the Kenyan police.

Final words from the anonymous source

Personally, I thought I would be living my best life in 2022. I had hopes of becoming a happy and successful person in life, but it seems like everything is turning south. Many of my fellow LGBTQ+ friends have also lost hope, and I feel abandoned by the UNHCR Kenya.

I am humbly calling upon the world to stand with us and advocate for our protection so that we may be given durable solutions.


Relief Web (2022) Research Terms of Reference: Actor and service mapping in Kakuma Refugee Camps.
Rethinking the Future (Undated) Refugee Camp Kakuma: 10 Facts You Should Know.
Reuters (2019) Uganda plans bill imposing death penalty for gay sex.
UNHCR Kenya (2021) UNHCR Statement on the situation of the LGBTIQ+ refugees in Kakuma camp.
UNHCR Kenya (Undated) Kakuma Refugee Cam and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement.