Albino refugees threatened by human traffickers plead for protection

Albino refugees threatened by human traffickers plead for protection
Leonadus Tuyisabe with his wife Anastasia. Photo: Leonadus Tuyisabe. Source: Original

By  Linda Shiundu - 16. November 2020

Many have been ridiculed, mocked and even killed, while some have committed suicide because they were not accepted by their own people. This is an ongoing and silent trauma suffered by albinos in Africa.

Most disturbingly, ritualists have turned albinos into wild animals, hunted for their body parts which are prized sources of portions in traditional medicine.

These threats have doubled for two albino refugee families living in Nairobi's Kangemi area who fled their homes in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2018 to find refugee but that has not been an easy journey.

Speaking to, Leonadus Tuyisabe and Darius Habawowe their efforts to get help in the country have been frustrated by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) which is yet to offer them protection.

According to Leonidas, he is worried about his children and granddaughter's safety of whom three are living with albinism and are being targetted by human traffickers.

The father of eight said they were living well until when traffickers started trailing his children every morning as they went to school in the company of their elder sister.

"They asked her to give them the albino children and they would give her money in return but she refused and the following day I joined them on their way to school but there was nobody," narrated the distraught father.

Days later, the same traffickers approached the young girl again but every time their father would join them, the traffickers would not show up.

Daughter kidnapped

Leonidus did not realise how grave the situation was until his daughter was kidnapped in September 2018 and taken to Ethiopia where she was both physically and sexually abused before she was released by her captures.

The 16-year-old girl stayed in Ethiopia for three months and when she was released, she met an Ethiopian but due to language barrier, she did not get any help until she met a Burundian national who understood her language.

The stranger then escorted her to the border where she explained to the police what had happened to her and they contacted her father.

"She was rescued and managed to travel back to Nairobi. She later alleges that she was again raped towards the end of last year which led to getting pregnant," a rape report from the Central Pollice Station dated February 2019 reads.

Back in Nairobi, the family was kicked out of their house in Kangemi after the country recorded its first case of COVID-19 in March 2020.

Accused of spreading COVID-19

According to the father of eight, the locals accused them of spreading the respiratory disease in the area forcing them to flee and spend nights outside the UNHCR offices along Waiyaki Way while seeking help.

However, his wife was arrested on claims that she was not protecting their children and endangering their life by sleeping with them on the streets which was in violation of the restrictions imposed by the government to prevent the further spreading of COVID-19.

The distraught mother was taken to Kileleshwa Police Station before she was taken to court where she was forced to accept the charges and sentenced to three years in prison.

She, however, spent one week at the Langata Women Maximum Security Prison and was released. They are, according to the man, are now forced to change houses every now and then as locals are still hostile towards them.

Habawowe's family

For Habawowe's family, his 11-year-old daughter was thrown into a hole by a fellow refugee from Burundi who had requested to talk to her while on her way to the toilet. She was found the following day by neighbours and taken to Ego Hospital.

As if that was not enough, his son was kidnapped and taken to Mombasa where he was held hostage for three months although his captures claimed he had willingly left his family to seek education at the coastal region.

But by the time he was released to return home, the 17-year-old boy was mentally ill and could not recount what had happened to him.

The family, which felt insecure, sought help at the UNCHR offices but they were instead wrapped up and taken to Kakuma refugee camp.

They, however, sold the little households they had in their home, combined it with their savings and returned to Nairobi where they have been seeking protection since then.

Just like the other family, his children were threatened and on one occasion attacked by knife welding men while coming from work.

Legal frameworks for people living with albinism

While the UNCHR was not available to comment on the same, nominated senator Isaac Mwaura who is also the chairman of Albino Society of Kenya said there was no legal framework for Albino refugees in Kenya hence making it difficult to assist the two families.

"There is nothing much since we only deal with Kenyans with albinism. My office has assisted two of them with food and upkeep in the past but nothing much. They live in various parts of the county especially in informal settlements like Kangemi," he said.

He, however, noted the African Union (AU) was adopting an action plan on albinism that he had helped lobby for in 2018.

"The AU Commission chairman is yet to appoint a special envoy as per the resolution of the council of ministers. This will go a long way in helping such situations," he said.
"Otherwise, the office of the high commissioner for refugees should have special measures for asylum seekers with albinism since countries such as the US and Switzerland have accepted to host them," he concluded.

The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in 2013 (A/HRC/RES/23/13) calling for the prevention of attacks and discrimination against persons with albinism.

In response to the call from civil society organizations advocating to consider persons with albinism as a specific group with particular needs that require special attention, the council created the mandate of the Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.

In June 2015, the Human Rights Council appointed Ikponwosa Ero as the first Independent Expert on the enjoyment of human rights by persons with albinism.

People selling the body parts of albinos have since been arrested in several African countries, with Tanzania recording the highest number of albino murders.