Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Protection in the City: Some Good Practice in Nairobi

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Protection in the City: Some Good Practice in Nairobi

Article excerpt

Despite a challenging protection environment, an assistance programme for LGBTI refugees in Nairobi offers examples of good practice that could be replicated in other urban settings.

More than 50,000 registered refugees live in Nairobi.1 Assistance agencies face multiple difficulties in trying to reach the most vulnerable individuals within such a large population, and refugees with particular needs can struggle to access the assistance they need. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) refugees constitute one such group. While there are many organisations in Nairobi doing valuable work with refugees, more effort is needed to integrate LGBTI refugees into assistance and protection programmes.

Same-sex relations between men are prohibited by Section 162 and 165 of Kenya's Penal Code and, although there are few actual convictions, NGO reports indicate harassment and blackmail of LGBTI people by police.2 LGBTI refugees also face particular risks within refugee communities as well as from the local population. Human Rights First's report The Road to Safety3 documents high levels of violence within refugee communities towards LGBTI refugees, including beatings, abductions and one attempt to set a gay Somali boy alight. HIAS's report Invisible in the City also notes attacks by Kenyan citizens on LGBTI refugees involved in survival sex work.4

LGBTI refugees often struggle to access assistance from NGOs, UNHCR offices or health-care providers due to a fear of being identified as LGBTI by other refugees and consequently subjected to harassment and/ or violence. Others fear being subjected to discrimination and prejudice from service providers. For example, one refugee told Human Rights First how he had been too afraid to approach UNHCR or an NGO for assistance because he worried that either other refugees there would identify him as LGBTI or a member of staff would expose him. He had already lost his job and his place of residence and had been thrown out of his church when the pastor learned that he was gay. He told us that he had three other friends who were in an equally vulnerable situation but were too scared to seek help and that the only reason he had come that day was because the NGO where we met him had agreed to see him on a Friday when there were usually no visitors.

Outreach and identification

Despite these challenges, there are some good practices in Nairobi that could be replicated elsewhere. One example relates to outreach and identification of LGBTI refugees with particular vulnerabilities. In 2009 an NGO in Nairobi established an assistance programme for LGBTI refugees; its staff generated referrals of LGBTI refugees in need of assistance by approaching local LGBTI organisations, trusted health-care providers and progressive religious institutions, as well as other organisations working with refugees, to let them know about the assistance it provides. More recently, the NGO has established satellite offices in areas where large numbers of refugees live, thereby making services more accessible by reducing time and transport costs.

Trained refugee counsellors based in these satellite offices conduct outreach in the local refugee communities; this has resulted in a significant increase in the number of LGBTI refugees seeking assistance with 120 LGBTI people approaching the organisation for help in the first six months of the new satellite offices being open. Also important is the NGO's 'open door' policy; refugees do not require appointments but can approach the office at any time, which means that LGBTI refugees do not have to wait with other refugees for extended periods in order to access services - something that LGBTI refugees had identified as a major obstacle due to fear of their sexual orientation or gender identity being discovered by other refugees.

Prior to the new outreach approach, few women came forward for assistance but since the satellite offices became operational, more than 40 lesbian refugees have approached the NGO. …

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