Most people know that Kenya has the biggest refugee camp in the World, Dadaab in North Eastern region where most of the displaced persons coming from the war torn Somalia. What most people do not know is that Kenya hosts refugees from many other countries fleeing here for many other reasons.
KENYA’S GAY REFUGEES
Kenya now accommodates not only war victims but also ‘gay refugees’. African homosexuals have been running to Kenya seeking refuge and anonymity. In our neighboring country Uganda, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) people have been hit by a wave of homophobia set off by an anti-homosexuality bill introduced in the Ugandan parliament which also proposed life imprisonment for homosexuality. It was so serious to an extent that one Ugandan tabloid newspaper even published a list of some gay men, including their names, photos and addresses and called for them to ‘hanged’.
Some have fled from other neighboring countries like Somalia where there‘s strict Islamic law in force that prohibits homosexuality; the Democratic Republic of Congo where sexual violence is common and other East African Countries with a climate of hostility aimed towards LGBT’s.
FLEEING TO FREE SPEECH – KENYA’S JOURNALIST REFUGEES
Kenya is the freest country in the region for journalists and their work, according to a survey done by a US-based ‘Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ). This has led to foreign journalists facing mistreatment in their own countries to seek exile in Kenya.
Speaking to the Daily Nation, Mr Tom Rhodes, the CPJ consultant for Kenya, agreed that Kenya is a natural hub for exiled journalists from countries in the region: “It is still a leader in freedom of the press and professional conduct in the way they work,” he said.
Most of those seeking exile are reporters who have fallen out with their respective governments in Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Rwanda and in Somalia. The latter remains perhaps the worst place for journalists, many who have now fled because of the two-decade civil war.
FLEEING THE WITCHDOCTORS – KENYA’S ALBINO REFUGEES
In neighboring Tanzania albinos are being targeted and killed by witchdoctors for their body parts. Not surprisingly many Albinos have fled from their homes in Tanzania to seek asylum in Kenya where most of them seek refuge on the coast region. Kenya has readily received them and accorded them political asylum on humanitarian grounds.
KENYA’S REFUGEES FROM CRIME – OR CRIMINAL REFUGEES?
Some people argue that Kenya is a safe haven for foreign fugitives; others that it is a safe haven for criminals.
Kenya has on many occasions in the past been accused of hiding foreigners who are on the run from the law, high profile suspects such as Rwandan fugitive Felician Kabuga who has been reported to be hiding in the country and being protected by the government (which the government has strongly denied), and recently there have been reports that Zimbabwean businessman and fugitive Frank Buyanga was hiding in the country.
This came barely a month after Kenya found herself on the defensive over allegations of hosting the son of former Zambian President Rupiah Banda. Mr Henry Banda, whom Zambia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry alleged was hiding in State House, Nairobi, is wanted over corruption charges.
KENYA – AN OASIS IN A TURBULENT REGION
So why is Kenya so attractive to foreign refugees, including those in trouble with the law in their respective countries? Is it the peaceful nature of Kenya that makes it so attractive to escapees? Are we too liberal compared to our neighboring countries?
Speaking to The Standard, Andrews Attah-Asamoah, a researcher at the Institute of Security Studies said, “We must look at Kenya in the context of it being viewed as ‘liberal’ in comparison to her neighbours. In this sense, it becomes a favourable destination for many actors. The same context makes it a preferred business destination. But we must be careful to keep individuals on the radar who may not necessarily have bad intentions for the country, but are fleeing particular situations in theirs.”
The Forum thinks that Asamoah has a point. Kenya has travelled a long way where human rights are concerned. Human rights activists have been active in campaigning for the rights of every person from women and children, to currently the LGBT community and even criminals. Compared to the neighbouring countries Kenya is more liberal, some would say lenient, in many aspects.
Kenya is also business friendly and a great regional financial hub (despite being high in the international corruption league) and also enjoys a generally peaceful atmosphere despite having been surrounded by war torn countries.
Speaking to The Standard, David Kikaya of the United States International University says Kenya is perceived as “an oasis of peace in a turbulent region”. He thinks this is the reason why Kenya hosts all kinds of people from many nationalities who escape due to different adverse circumstances.
It’s all well and good that Kenya provides a safe haven for victims of injustice but should it also be a bolt hole for those fleeing justice?