Saturday, January 13, 2007

Claiming Asylum as a Gay Person

Habeeb has claimed asylum in the USA. Ndyanabo did so in Canada. All are Ugandans who have taken a chance to ask for asylum in another country, on the grounds that being gay in Uganda is detrimental to their continued wellbeing. It cannot be fun leaving one’s country because of what one is.

My attention was drawn to the discussion on this blog about that subject. The contention was that, since the UNHCR has a mandate to recognise that a person is persecuted because of his sexual orientation, then it is a bonafide reason to seek asylum. Yet few gay people from Africa do so. Why is that?

Maybe it is because we do not know about it. The lack of hope in our countries makes people trek across the Sahara for a chance of a better life in Europe, or America. They risk death, on the sea, in the desert, in being stowaways. All for the chance of a better future. So, when they get there, why don’t they claim that they are being persecuted because of their sexual orientation?

When Ndyanabo claimed asylum in Canada, his name was splashed across the papers in Uganda. I thought immediately that he has burnt his bridges behind him. He must get the asylum, because he cannot afford to come back to an outed state in Uganda. We have to consider that. If I claim asylum on the grounds that I am gay, what if I don’t get asylum? What if I am shipped back to Uganda? I will be in a worse state, outed when I would not want to be. It happened recently to a woman deported from the UK. Maybe the govt will not pursue me, but what about my family? I may find myself without the all important family support that is necessary to survive.

Yet there is another consideration. Ugandans in the diaspora live in closely knit communities. They look out for one another. They remember each other as a family abroad. And guess what would be a problem if you said you are gay? You would lose this social support. Most of us do carry our homophobia with us into the diaspora.

And another point which comes out very clearly in the discussion here is this. How many gay Ugandans are comfortable with that identity? The answer is very few. Most of us would rather have the ground swallow us than admit to our love for people of the same sex. We have little knowledge of who we are. We know it feels right, we are continuously bombarded by information from church, family, mosque, government and society that it is not right. Would we claim that identity? Read the Habeeb story. It gives a pretty good summary of what is.

Would I claim asylum on account of being a homosexual from Uganda? I would think about it a lot. I would certainly not leave this country on a whim. I love it. I would leave only when forced by circumstances. And claiming asylum because I am gay would be something to do under some considerable duress. Speak of being between a rock and a hard place. But survival is what matters, and Ugandans are masters of survival.



Bruce said...

Your piece essentially supports my position that African gays don't apply for asylum in Europe or North America because they themselves, because of the repression and persecution they have suffered, have trouble with their own homosexual identities. It is a recognized clinical sympton of long term persecution that the visctim eventually begins to agree with the persecutor.

As for publication of their asylum claim in Ugandan newspapers, that is really a result of their own behavior. The fellow in Canada spoke to the Canadian press about his asylum claim. By strictly observed international agreement, all asylum claims are confidential, and any government official who would break this confidentiality would be suspended and liable for prosecution.

gayuganda said...

That sounds like we are all sick and need, ahem, some sort of treatment!
Many homophobes here literally agree with that. The fight for our identity is a personal thing which unfortunately not all win. But I will not judge harshly those who fall on the way. We are all different, and my circumstances can never be identical to those of another individual.

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