MASK 01: UNHCR System is Not Working for Persecuted LGBTI Refugees

7 MASKS 1 STORY – This is MASK 01 out of 7 MASK stories which will be told each day this week: If you care you will share!

For the past ten years I have been working with LGBTQ individuals and communities in several African Countries in the global attempt to thwart homophobia and deal with the casualties it causes. Not a day goes by without me receiving several heartbreaking e-mails, depicting terrible suffering. I am going to ask you to journey with me for 7 days as I bring 7 stories this week, one per day, to these pages.

I have decided to highlight 7 actual communications on this BLOG in a series called MASK.

Over 30 countries on the continent of Africa criminalize human sexuality gender identity. This criminalization and the accompanying rhetoric by politicians and religious leaders, as well as abusive tabloid outings has led to untold persecution, requiring exile from home countries for many. Our work at African Human Rights Coalition is to collaborate for safety and solutions with those severely impacted by the anti-LGBTI milieu. Our website at speaks to the work we are doing.

Currently there are serious problems for those seeking refuge, with few solutions and many linger in hopelessness and despair. The global refugee and asylum seeking system is failing LGBTQI refugees.  They are not guaranteed resettlement and they suffer horrendously while waiting in hope for resettlement.

While we acknowledge that there are over 60 million displaced migrants in the world due to war, famine, climate, politics, persecution, etc., the LGBTQI refugees are the most marginalized among the marginalized, as even other refugees turn on them.  Unlike straight refugees, the very violence LGBTQI individuals encountered in home countries persist while they are refugees.  After they leave home countries the countries in Africa which host them as refugees are hostile host countries because they also have laws which continue to criminalize them! While straight people cross into countries where they are safe, LGBTQI people cross into countries where they are unsafe, even under UNHCR protection.  Most cannot get off the continent into an accepting non-homophobic country because they may not qualify, the pipeline is jammed, there has been a reduction in refugee numbers by the U.S.A. with added hardship through Trump induced changes in asylum policies, and countries of refuge are simply not doing enough.  And so while they wait many years, they are hard pressed for survival.

The Mask stories will mostly speak to the lives of LGBTQI individuals as refugees, giving direct voice, through their own words: These reflections of the refugees avoid the unconscionable, relentless, heartbreaking violence that led them into exile, and are intended mostly to show the hardship once in exile. So you can only imagine what came before to precipitate no choice but to be in exile in such despairing and hopeless circumstances.  This has got to change. It is for this reason that I have decided to break my silence – as I have always kept these daily communications mostly private. The one’s that are revealed in MASK are revealed with permission and with anonymity guaranteed to the individual.

The symbol of the mask looms as a metaphor for those who have no choice but to hide – and even here with self-representation in the stories they tell, they must continue to hide. For years and years there is no safety. For years and years there is minimal food. For years and years there is barely a solution to survival. For years and years there is ongoing violence, which as it continues the refugees get physically ill and mentally exhausted.

It is important that the voices of LGBTQI refugees are directly reflected. So while many often point fingers at UNHCR, and their experience cannot denied, UNHCR is doing its best given limited resources, lack of solutions and hostile host governments. We need something innovative and different.

MASK 01*:

Dear Nathan

I’m deeply writing this with a sorrowful heart!

The UNHCR has failed to decide my fate. My story has turned from one of hope to gloom and desperation I have lost hope that I will be helped My resettlement interview has delayed almost three years now ( 2016-2019)

I personally have gone through persecution, torture and sexual exploitation.

I have been writing emails and approaching UNHCR officials to seek action on my case but have never got a positive feedback regarding my resettlement interview. I’m deeply unhappy and discouraged with the way UNHCR,Nairobi,Kenya delays a resettlement process for a voiceless asylum seeker like me. I’m in a desperate condition following my vulnerability with serious consequences for stability and well being!, as a victim with genuine reasons as to why I fled my  home country seeking safety and protection.

My heart is full of sorrow, I feel sad to see how long it takes to be accepted as a refugee while suffering. I feel very bad and desperate-alot of pressure and thinking too much. I’m here for 3 years without recognition. This is giving me headache and the need to run mad Under enormous stress and profoundly frustrated, I feel like commiting suicide!!

Still no hope

For many years, seeking asylum , I feel exhausted not only to prove persecution, but also feel damaged by this. Sometimes I really feel like giving up on telling the story. I’m really tired of it

Why I’m I telling the story even when at the end of the day no one feels concerned? Being stuck in this resettlement purgatory makes healing and recovery even more difficult. I wrestle with a lot of challenges as I long wait for this. I feel tired constantly proving my pain but never seeing any improvement to my situation. I have been waiting in limbo since 2016. I have waited and endured great worry and anxiety over the delays to my case, struggling to obtain information from authorities (UNHCR) on the status of my case.

I have  persistently written/ called in to inquire why my case is taking long but haven’t got a promising response.

I’m so desperate, the pain I experience. I’m certainly frustrated and depressed in all these years of waiting in dire circumstances. I have complained many times to UNHCR resettlement desk over my case indefinite delay. The situation has caused much disturbance and my health has deteriorated during this length of the long waiting period. I really can’t stop these deep thoughts each day.
I’m deeply unsettled, whenever I think about my case, I’m always filled with sadness, worries and grief. In all cases, the question remains to UNHCR; Why is my case taking so long?

Does UNHCR see that their unexplained delays cause me to suffer profound uncertainty?

I have no power to push my case forward, not even power to know the reason for my case delays and wonder whether UNHCR really considers the hardships I endure in this unfriendly environment. I feel deprived of the most basic information about my fate which feeds into a deep and pervasive sense of hopelessness, abandonment and marginalisation.

My case is frozen.

I’m not a false refugee but the true refugee is not assisted by UNHCR

I have lost all faith

I have a dark life!!

I need help!


The MASKS: These Masks were hand painted by refugees and asylum seekers who made it to Bay Area San Francisco. They were used symbolically in my San Francisco Pride 2014 Community Grand Marshal Contingent to reflect on  the fact that despite the support of the office of Senator Dianne Feinstein, the Obama President/ Kerry Secretary of State administration – did not grant VISAS to African LGBTQI individuals who were invited to march with us in SF Pride 2014. The embassies refusing the VISAS at that time – were following our law, and new policy is making those laws even harsher. Something different and special needs to happen for humans who are accused of criminality when they love! #7Masks1story

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Advocacy: African Human Rights Coalition
Follow me on Twitter – @MelanieNathan1
Instagram: @commissionermelnathan

9 thoughts on “MASK 01: UNHCR System is Not Working for Persecuted LGBTI Refugees

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