In this report, we aim to shed light on some of the still relatively unknown consequences of anti-gay legislation enacted in many African countries.
International LGBTI Support has carried out research on LGBTI refugees in Kenya and Senegal, in order to understand what their actual needs are and how to help them.
We have gathered data and reports from different associations supporting LGBTI rights and we have conducted an online survey, as part of our “Support Uganda” program. We hope that our work will promote a better understand of the dramatic situation of those who have a different sexual orientation or gender identity.
• 37 African countries consider homosexual relationships a felony,
• 4 African countries authorize the death penalty for LGBTI people in all / or part of the country,
• 2 African countries, Nigeria and Uganda, have adopted new anti-gay legislation in the last 12 months,
• 2 African countries, Nigeria and Uganda, have laws against LGBTI propaganda, and
• 1 African country, South-Africa, guarantees equal rights and protection against discrimination to its LGBTI citizens. Unfortunately, these laws are not always applied.
Recently, Uganda has been criticized because of its anti-gay legislation. In February 2014, President Yoweri Museveni approved a restrictive law, the Anti-Homosexuality Act, that has rendered penalties against homosexuals harsher, including life imprisonment. The law was proposed in 2009 by Devid Bahati, a member of the Ugandan Parliament; later it was modified, since the original version even included the death penalty. Uganda criminalized gays on the basis of an old law on sodomy inherited from the period of British colonization, although the punishments have been significantly worsened since 1990. The Uganda Criminal Code, section 140, clarifies that the “carnal knowledge against the order of nature” is to be considered a crime. (Report Human Rights Watch).
Ugandan law also provides life imprisonment for homosexual behavior. Sections 141 and 143 of the Criminal Code allow a maximum penalty of seven years for “attempts at carnal knowledge” and a maximum of five years for “lewd acts”.
Uganda state officers have regularly threatened and harassed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In October 2004, James Nsaba Buturo, Minister for Information and Broadcasting of Uganda, ordered the police to investigate and take action against an LGBTI rights organization.
Because of this continued persecution, LGBTI people are currently leaving rural areas in order to reach more tolerant places, such as larger cities, or they are migrating to neighboring countries that offer legal protection.
Even though the Anti-Homosexuality Bill was abolished in August 2014, the LGBTI situation in Uganda has not substantially improved and many are escaping to Kenya. According to ORAM, the LGBTI organisation for Refuge, Asylum and Migration, Ugandan LGBTI often find shelter in Kenya to escape detention and persecution. Unfortunately, this, in turn, enhances their risk of sexual violence.
Documentation shows that at least 58 Ugandan LGBTI individuals that have fled to Kenya have experienced violence and discrimination in the Kakuma refugee camp.
In the Gambia, local authorities have launched a witch hunt against gay people. Also in this country the situation is increasingly becoming worse for homosexuals, and many LGBTI Gambians have crossed the Senegalese border this past year, struggling to get officially recognized as refugees. The Committee for Refugees in Dakar (Senegal) has so far failed in its mission to prevent people from being forced to return to the Gambia when their status as refugees has been denied. Many Gambians feel hopeless, not knowing where to go, where to stay or how to survive.
Despite the current situation, many of these people “dream one day to return to their country and be accepted ….”
Many among these people, after moving to another country, are cut off from their support networks and turn to prostitution. Data from an ORAM report reveals that many homosexuals in Kenya turn to prostitution and, because of this, repeatedly get arrested. Others are facing the consequences of traumas suffered during their lives and their mental health is increasingly at risk. Given their pariah status, they are at higher risk of assault in refugee camps and more exposed to discrimination. Therefore, it is important to work together to bring out these issues within and across national borders.
There are many African refugees in the UK who could speak up to help and bring support to those who are in prison and suffer from discriminatory laws in their countries of origin.
From our survey, we found that many people suggested creating shelters where there could be real support for LGBTI people, for instance offices where crimes against gays could be reported.
From the analysis of our survey, it derives that, likely due to complicit communication media, many people in Africa have access only to biased information about what is happening in their country. Therefore, we stress the need for more listening points that could give concrete support in addressing this situation, for instance, by providing practical and reliable information on sexual orientation and gender identity to people, families, neighbors, and work colleagues.
It is important to point out that in Uganda, most newspapers are funded by American evangelical religious groups that promote homophobic campaigns, such as publishing photos of LGBTI activists along with their names, jobs, and personal addresses. In 2011, LGBTI activist and lawyer, David Kato, was murdered, after the “Rolling Stone” newspaper had published a list of alleged homosexuals, among whom there was Kato.
Due to these dramatic events, more than 700 LGBTI activists have decided to leave their country to seek asylum in Europe. One proposal is to make the EU asylum policy more flexible to ease the visa requirements for LGBTI activists who are at high risk.
In our survey, the respondents were Ugandan LGBT refugees in a camp in Nairobi, Kenya :
Question #6 of our survey: In many African countries, such as Nigeria, Uganda, Gambia etc., restrictive laws against LGBTI people, such as the Anti-Homosexuality Act or Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act, have been promulgated. In your opinion, what should EU and NGOs do in this regard?
Respondents have called for further efforts in favor of LGBTI harassment victims, a fairer deal, and the possibility of migrating abroad. They also suggested focusing more on small projects for the community and rights awareness promotion.
It follows that NGOs and other associations often do not seem to be present enough to provide these people with the support they need. On the contrary, questionable public and ecclesiastical figures receive ample media coverage, such as Scott Lively and Pastor Martin Ssempa.
Another critical point seems to be the lack of programs about the protection of homosexual people, their health, food aid, proper information, and education.
Question #11: What can be done to stop the discrimination of LGBTI people in Africa?
It is necessary to promote a more united intervention of the NGOs to combat discrimination and discourage homophobic actions and speeches that target sexual orientation and gender identity. It is of vital importance to strengthen the networking between associations, considering that there are many small organizations in Africa completely isolated from one another.
This is not easy. Many factors are playing against the enhancement of social awareness in the country, such as the lack of culture and the great poverty of many rural areas.
Question #10: What could be useful to improve the conditions of LGBTI refugees?
Many are calling for more help and legal support to obtain long-term asylum, whose procedures are often lengthy and time-consuming. Facilitating this type of asylum status in Europe is highly desirable, especially considering the pervasive discrimination and intolerance LGBTI people go through in their countries of origin. It should be allowed them to stay in Western countries which, so far, have been the safest place for them. Once again, respondents remind us that NGOs should collaborate more closely to render this option possible. Last but not least, it is crucial to raise funds and resources to help people who want to escape from their country but they cannot due to economic difficulties. However, it is worth mentioning that , according to some, migrating to another country is not the best solution.
Given our research results, LGBTI people have been poorly informed about the situation of refugees in Kenya or Senegal, since only few of them have been able to respond to our survey. This is likely due to the local legislative restrictions on free information.
A study by the United Nations on sexual violence highlighted the necessity to escape for individuals who have been subjected to discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
It is important to stress that Kenya has a long history of refugee-hosting. For instance, from 1960 until 1980, refugees from Uganda have were integrated in the life of the country. Urban centers like Nairobi, Mombasa, Eldoret and Kisumu host many refugees and asylum seekers. In Kakuma camp 58 Ugandan LGBTI refugees have been documented, with 23 of them arriving there before the Anti-Homosexuality Bill and 35 since its approval.
We also want to distinguish the term “refugee”, from “asylum seeker”, and “internally displaced individual”.
The definition of “refugee”, as provided by the Refugee Convention of 1951, is a person who “due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”. In summary, a refugee is a person in a foreign country, who cannot return to his country of origin for fear of persecution due to his identity or belief.
The term “internally displaced individual” is clarified by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement 2004. They are persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obliged to flee or to leave their homes or their places of residence, owing to special orders to avoid the effects of armed conflicts, or situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or disasters.
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) explains the concept of “sexual violence and gender”, which also includes discrimination against women. They include acts that inflict physical harm, mental or sexual suffering or threats, coercion and other deprivations of liberty.
Official data about the situation of the refugees in 2012 at the Dadaab refugee camp (on the border with Kenya and Somalia) have reported nearly 6,000 new individuals from Somalia only. In August 2012, the total number of registered refugees and asylum seekers was more than 630,000. Among them, there were also many LGBTI people, who may have suffered various forms of violence, such as rape, gang rape, sexual exploitation, during their flight. Refugees who have experienced sexual violence and gender usually show complex needs that require equally complex interventions. They may experience physical or psychological distress derived from displacement and from their experience of violence. However, still very little information on these refugees in Senegal is available. Despite our research, no concrete and reliable information on the quality of life in these camps has been documented.
Some information on the refugees in Kenya is provided by the Kuchu Diaspora Alliance-USA (KDA-USA), which keeps track of the Ugandan LGBTI refugees in various parts of the world. This report classifies Ugandan refugees into two groups, that is the group of LGBTI people currently in the Kakuma camp and the refugees living in Nairobi and the surrounding cities.
For both groups, the situation is unbearable. In the Kakuma camp many LGBTI people have recently been attacked because of their sexual orientation, with most of the assaults being carried out by Sudanese and Somali men. Refugees report that there is no protection provided by the United Nations High Commissioner and the police has been reported to repeatedly threaten LGBTI refuges (e.g., an attack took place in June 27th 2014).
A Ugandan LGBTI refugee has been stoned by Sudanese refugees claiming that “homosexuals do not deserve to live among humans”. The attackers then broke into the area of LGBTI refugees and attacked them. No real improvement has been obtained after that 35 refugees marched to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees protesting for their poor security and the lack of necessary resources. Given that police in Kakuma has often been associated to ferocious harassments, many victims prefer not to report. In fact, refugees are afraid of being killed and homophobic attacks happen on regular basis.
Unfortunately, many cases of refugees have been reported where refugees obtaining a job outside the camp have been fired, once their sexual orientation or gender identity has been disclosed. For these individuals, unemployment equates to inability to afford medications, food, clothing, transportation, and anything else they may need, such as obtaining documents. So, these require support for rent payment, food, medicine, transportation, bed linens, etc.
They are human beings who have had to flee their homes for safety reasons and suffer in a country where they are not allowed to work and are continuously discriminated and abused on a daily basis. As a result of this inhuman and unbearable situation, many of them are sick and ill. (Data provided by KDA-USA).
Our survey confirms that there is much discontent as little actions has been concretely implemented to help these persons. One frequent complaint is that little or no assurances have been provided by local authorities, institutions, and organizations.
Moreover, it is important to clarify the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker. An asylum seeker lands in a safe country and there expects to be granted the right for asylum in order to transit to another country. A refugee stays in an unsafe country waiting to go elsewhere, usually due insufficient funds. Unfortunately, this “waiting room” situation often turns out to be makeshift. Getting the refugee status via the United Nations involves waiting for some time. Indeed, the UNHCR has a very slow bureaucracy, although in recent years it has become somewhat more sensitive to migrants’ needs.
All refugees deserve to be treated with dignity rather than with abuses that LGBTI people face and suffer in Kakuma, where they risk their lives every day. International LGBTI Support wants to ensure that these people live in safety and are provided with new opportunities for a better life. We therefore commit ourselves to this journey so as to help these people in extreme difficulty.
As we have reported earlier in this brief, many countries other than Uganda have enacted harsh laws. The President of Nigeria, Jonathan Goodluck, signed a law in January 2014 that penalizes gays with up to 14 years in prison. In Cameroon, a man was jailed for having declared his love to another man in a text message. In Ethiopia, lawmakers are discussing a new law to makes homosexuality an unforgivable crime.
Our association is committed through our Support Uganda Program to provide concrete support to LGBTI people who, due to punitive anti-gay laws, are forced to escape from their countries, to leave their families and friends, and who live in extremely difficult situations. We want to provide these people with the support they need to achieve better, if not optimal, life conditions.
We welcome everyone’s active contribution, as well as support and suggestions to improve our work and strengthen the impact on the LGBTI refugee situation in Africa.
We do this, because we strongly believe that no life is disposable and everyone deserves to live life with dignity and respect.
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INTERNATIONAL LGBTI SUPPORT
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