A Thanksgiving story – with a special thanks to those who contributed to the Relief Fund that has helped many survive unspeakable hardship
By Melanie Nathan, November 26, 2014.
Its been a long hard road for Kayizzi Joseph Kizito and his partner of one and half years, Rashid, a young gay couple from Uganda, who fled to Kenya before the signing of the Anti-Homosexuality Act by President Yoweri Museveni. Today, with thanks to UNHCR, HIAS and my U.S. based Relief Fund, as supported by kind people in the global LGBT community, Joseph and Rashid landed safely in their country of resettlement, which not only acknowledges that the couple are not criminals for loving each other, but welcomes them with open arms.
Some reading this may have known Joseph through his various pseudonyms, but today as he landed safely in Vancouver, Canada, he noted with great pride: “Yes, please use my real name- Kayizzi Joseph Kizito – these are all my names – even my family name – even my father’s name – – I will use that family name of “Kizito” soon, because now I am free.”
I have been communicating with Joseph, for almost 2 years and our communications became my window to his persecution. As a gay man he suffered much at the hands of family, police, government and community alike.
Joseph Kayizzi was in great danger, as a result of threats by family members to out him to the local community. He eventually found his way to a “safehouse” at the home of Sam Ganafa, a known Ugandan human rights defender.
On November 12, 2013, the Ugandan police raided the house to arrest Ganafa. Joseph was at the house at the time together with other men, all in hiding from similar persecution. Joseph was amongst those detained by the police, who beat and tortured them, tried to extort bribes, accusing the men of having homosexual relations.
The arrest, it is asserted, was unlawful, and the men were detained for five days before being brought in front of a magistrate. At the time, in addition to the beatings, Mr. Kayizzi took ill, suffering from allergies, asthma and malaria, but the police denied him medical care.
He was eventually granted bail and able to leave the jail, but had to report back to the police regularly, and each time he was further beaten and harassed.
Here are screenshots of one of Joseph’s early communications with me:
Although the Anti-Homosexuality Bill had yet to pass, Joseph knew there was a good chance it would, as the anti-gay fervor kept building in Uganda. He could no longer stand the harassment and he knew he could be called to court and forced to testify against Mr. Ganafa.
So he had to get himself and Rashid out of Uganda as quickly as possible. With no resources they headed toward the unknown – seeking refugee status, across the border in Kenya. And though he hoped this was their path to freedom, he also soon became aware that the path was one that would route them through hell.
One month after he left, on December 20, the Ugandan Parliament passed the Anti-homosexuality Bill, and two months after that President Museveni signed it into law. This caused even greater fear for Joseph and Rashid. The uncertainty and difficulties associated with the survival of gay foreigner refugees in Kenya meant arrests in Kenya and uncertainty of deportation. If sent back to Uganda, he could be subject to a life sentence based on his sexuality.
The UNHCR in Kenya was suddenly receiving groups of Ugandans and their future was uncertain. The men were being sent by UNHCR to Kakuma Camp where life was near impossible for gays. (See the story I wrote about Ham, the Ugandan 21 year old refugee who made it to San Francisco this month).
At that time I reached out to UNHCR and HIAS on behalf of Joseph. Here is a portion of the communication in support of his case:
“It is clear that the law, if enacted, and the current operating penal code under which Mr. Kayizzi has been charged, severely inhibit the freedom and right to one’ sexuality, and it is in direct conflict with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as unconstitutional under Uganda’s Constitution itself. And it is believed that given the nature of the raid on the house, the current anti-gay fervor in Uganda, and the police brutality against Mr. Kayizzi, that he would not be likely to receive a fair trial. Mr. Kayizzi communicated his fear to me for several months and this escalated as described. Accordingly he informed me that he believed his life to be in great danger…..
I also reported on these arrests on Nov 14, 2013, where Mr Kayizzi’s story has further been corroborated to me by 2 other Ugandans who were arrested at the same time as well as other local sources: See my article here – http://oblogdeeoblogda.me/2013/11/14/unlawful-arrest-of-ugandan-lgbt-executive-director
And I further noted that if returned to Uganda:
“There are concerns that the suspects had reported that they are being forced to make statements to implicate Ganafa.”
Sam Ganafa and the other three suspects were facing sodomy charges under section 145 of the penal code act. If found guilty, the suspects would have possibly received life imprisonment.” ( http://oblogdeeoblogda.me/2013/11/15/outrage-in-ugandan-lgbt-community-as-activist-faces-possible-life-in-prison/ ). However while Kayizzi was in Kenya and after many delays, Ganafa’s case was eventually dismissed, and it may be with thanks to the fact that many of the witnesses, such as Joseph, had fled.
Once in Kenya, Kakuma Camp, fraught with more persecution at the hands of other heterosexual refugees and sub standard conditions, was not an option for Joseph and Rashid. Because of the notoriety of the Anti-Gay Bill in uGanda, if one was from Uganda, one was assumed to be gay, as there was no war in Uganda to yield refugees. So Ugandans became targets of abuse in the refugee camp itself, where they faced even more danger. Joseph, suffering from asthma was concerned that he would not survive his repeated bouts of the illness and the resulting Pneumonia, and so with the help of our Relief Fund, and some others, he was able to remain outside the camp in Nairobi.
The danger in Nairobi was constant – as all foreigners were labelled potential “terrorist” by police, who often searched door to door and made arrests. Not only did he successfully navigate the system and the unknowns for an entire year, but also helped to support and advise other refugees as showed up.
Kayizzi Joseph Kizito and partner Rashid have just arrived home, to beautiful Vancouver and now they will settle in and await their orientation. They still have a long road ahead, to acclimate to their new surroundings new found freedom, while seeking work and a permanent home.
Joseph is the consummate activist and while he will need time to find his place in Canada, I have no doubt that once settled, will again be the one who extends his hand to help others. In the meantime it is my hope that friends and others still waiting for their turn at resettlement, will give Joseph and Rashid a chance to settle down and enjoy their new life together.
It is not easy to start a new life and the path is not without great risk. And so while many reading this story may be wanting a similar road, I caution you to take care and be well prepared before embarking on such a journey. In general there are not many out there willing to lend a helping hand and survival is not easy. Please be sure you get proper advice and ensure support before you take off, as many are still caught up in quagmires and extreme hardship.
I would also like to remind people that as a new and stronger Diaspora of African LGBTI exiles begins to emerge, a stronger global movement will develop toward the much needed change in Africa, to repeal old Penal codes and reverse the trend toward even harsher anti-gay laws. The success of gay men like Joseph and Rashid who are given an opportunity to flourish through freedom, who can now be public – not forced to continue to hide, will set a visible example for the people back home, that ‘being gay is perfectly okay.’ I really believe that this path is not the path for all. However for those African LGBTI people who are in new countries, the duty to work as activists in the Diaspora, to lead by example of success, are an imperative piece to this critical puzzle towards change. It will take many years. I have no doubt that Joseph will maintain close ties with home and do all he can to further the cause of justice and freedom for all LGBTI Ugandans.
I would like to thank all my friends who came forward with the donations that helped Joseph and Rashid and that continue to help others. I would like to thank those at UNHCR who worked so hard to expedite this and other cases. A special thanks to my friend Ervan Darnell – for his kindness, generosity, brain storming and special help.
If you would like to help support some LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees please take a look at this fund:-
THE RELIEF FUND: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/lgbt-africa-relief-fund-4–2/x/9186720 No amount is too small.