Kate Kamunde a well-known Kenyan LGBTI activist has for the second time been denied a visa to attend a rights training session in Canada.
The visa denial has caused dismay in civil society circles with the Canadian High Commission in Nairobi coming under fire in a letter from the Canadian organisation that had invited Kamunde for the training.
Kamunde, the Program Coordinator, AFRA-Kenya was scheduled to attend a key training by the Women’s Human Rights Education Institutes (WHRI) in Canada.
Kamunde presented all the necessary documents and has a letter signed by a commissioner with the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, Fatuma Ibrahim Ali showing support from the organisation.
The letter to Kamunde from the Visa Section of the Canada High Commission dated October 6, 2011 said:
“In reaching a decision, an officer considers several factors; these may include the applicant’s travel and identity documents, reason for travel to Canada, contacts in Canada, financial means for the trip; ties to country of residence (including immigration status, employment and family ties) and whether the applicant would be likely to leave Canada at the end of his/her authorised stay.
“Should you wish to reapply, I would suggest you do only if your situation has changed substantively or you have significant new information to submit.”
The Canadian High Commission’s decision was attacked by WHRI the Canadian organisation that invited Kamunde. Angela Lytle, the WHRI Executive Director suggested there was a bias by the Canadian High Commission against sexual minorities in Kenya.
Lytle said in her statement, “We were most dismayed to learn that Kate Kamunde (Catherine Kamundi) of AFRA-Kenya was denied her visa to Canada which would have enabled her to participate in this important training in October 2011.”
She added, “This being Kate’s second attempt, with our support, to procure a visa to Canada for these purposes, we felt certain that the many institutions supporting her attendance should have enabled her to secure a visa. Kate had full funding from a European funding organization and she had the support of the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission in her home country, as well as our invitation for her to participate in this program.
Lytle said, “We cannot fathom why her visa was denied on the standard grounds that the Canadian High Commission asserts for visa denials without ever clarifying or elaborating upon how those decisions are made.
She added, “Kate is the first Kenyan national we have worked with who has been refused her visa twice, and so we are led to wonder deeply about the grounds upon which they made their decision.”
Lytle explained, “WHRI have been offering globally renowned training institutes in women’s human rights at the University of Toronto for eight years, with dozens of participants who have come to Toronto from around the world to participate and then subsequently returning to their home communities to share their learning within their home organizations, institutions and communities.”
Wanja Muguongo, Executive Director of UHAI-EASHRI, the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative, a grant-making initiative, gave her views on the increasing cases of visa denials of LGBTI activists saying, “Foreign missions need to realise that if indeed their governments are true partners in the struggle for human rights then they need to walk the talk.”
She added, “This process seems unduly prejudiced towards sexual minorities or towards the thought that being a minority makes an applicant more risky and this should never be a factor in their appraisals as it is discriminatory in nature.”
Muguongo said, “The missions need to come out clearly on what else they require to allow activists to travel.”
Kamunde’s visa problems echo a similar previous situation which affected Ugandan activist Victor Mukasa in 2009.
At that time Mukasa had been named International Grand Marshall for the Toronto Pride 2009 and together with three other Ugandan LGBTI activists were invited to attend the event.
The three activists received full travel support from UHAI –EASHRI and had to travel from Kampala to Nairobi to secure Canadian visas at the Nairobi visa section to attend the Pride event.
However despite having all the necessary documentation and travel support only one of them secured a visa. The Canadian high commission visa office did not reconsider their decision in spite of a letter of appeal sent to them from the sponsoring organisation.