Last year, Steven fled from Uganda to Kenya to escape anti-gay violence. This year, days away from reaching safety in the United States, his travel was blocked by President Trump’s executive order suspending admissions of refugees for 120 days.
Because of that executive order, Steven is now homeless, living on the streets of Nairobi, begging for food.
“Friday, 27 January, 2017, is a day I will never forget,” Steven says. “That was the day President Trump put the refugee program on hold.”
Steven had been scheduled to fly to the United States in mid-February. In preparation for that flight, he bought a bag and some clothes instead of paying February’s rent of about US$85. His plan was for his security deposit to be used to cover the few days he would stay there before his departure.
Trump’s sudden action caught him unprepared — with luggage, but no way to use it, with no money for food, no money for rent. Here’s what happened next, as recounted by Steven:
“I woke up at 7 a.m., as usual. I was down to my last cent, so worried how I was going to survive. My landlord came at 10:40 a.m. exactly and gave me the news. He told my friend and me to get out.
“That afternoon, I went to my landlord’s house to plead with him to let us stay, but he totally refused. Again he told us to get out.
“We moved out by 3 p.m. We put our belongings outside the door, with no option of anywhere to go.
“The apartment complex has big verandas, so we lay there. We spent the whole night there.”
“We woke up in the morning on empty stomachs with nothing to eat.
“We walked around to search for other alternatives [for housing] but no one was willing to help us. By 5 p.m. we got back to the veranda. One of the neighbours who was a friend gave us some food to eat. She couldn’t house us because she’s married and has a small house.”
“We woke up outside on the veranda again. It was so cold.
“We made some calls but everyone was busy and not able to help. Luckily a friend gave me some lunch money [US $3 worth, from another Ugandan LGBTI asylum seeker in Nairobi]. We used it to buy some bread and milk at 6 p.m.
We slept again on the veranda. The landlord says we can stay here on the veranda for a week.
The disadvantage of staying there is that the apartments are by the main road. Cars make a lot of noise so I find it hard to sleep And the cold is unbearable.
The place is not safe. Both of us can’t sleep at once because we would risk our belongings being stolen while we sleep.
As a refugee, Steven used to get the equivalent of US$45 a month in financial assistance from the Nairobi office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. However, because of his scheduled travel to the United States, he was removed from the list of refugees eligible for that support.
UNHCR staff have told him that his name was deleted from the list of certified refugees and it will take a long time to get it back on.
As of today, it was unclear whether Trump’s executive order suspending the refugee program would be blocked in court. A federal judge on Feb. 3 blocked Trump’s ban on entry of travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries. The New York Times reported that the “judge also barred the administration from enforcing its limits on accepting refugees,” which might or might not apply to Steven.
Steven doesn’t know how he will survive until the end of the 120-day suspension of the U.S. refugee program, if it remains in effect, nor what will happen in late May, after the 120 days have passed.
“I am just living by chance,” Steven said.
In cooperation with Erasing 76 Crimes