7 MASKS 1 STORY – This is MASK 02 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 while 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 www.AfricanHRC.org 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 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.
I fled my country Uganda in 2016, bse of persecution and death threats from my family,religion and culture.
I got registered in Nairobi as an urban asylum seeker in 2016, my stay in Nairobi was horrible as life was so bad ,I didn’t a home to stay ,food and medication bse am asthmatic and I was sleeping in cold.
I sought for assistance from hias because I was always in asthma attack. I was approved financial assistance for 4months which I received from Feb 2017 to may 2017. And it stopped ,Iife become too hard to stay in Nairobi , people took advantage of the situation I was going through, I was attempted to be raped so many times ,forced into sex in exchange to food and shelter.
I got fed up and went to unhcr so as to seek help but unfortunately I failed bse the agency was facing financial constraints bse of budget cut that time. I was rounded up together with other refugees at unhcr offices in westlands and taken to kakuma camp by force . In the camp, I was imprisoned together with other 17lgbtis bse we held a peaceful demonstration seeking interventions of unhcr kakuma which had abandoned us in the reception centre in the camp,
we kindly needed to be advised on the way forward bse we had already been registered in Nairobi as urban refugees.
I was incercerated together with 17 lgbti’s in lodwar prison for 1month. While in prison ,we faced quite a number of injustices ,rape,tortures,assaulted,denial of food, water and medication etc
I was released and brought back to the camp by unhcr.
I accepted to remain in the camp after being promised to worked upon protection and medical help by the then lgbti focal person.
He promised that I will be granted protection, proper medication but a week after I registered ,he was transferred and another officer took over his role who never listened to despite trying hard to reach out to him .
I got asthma attacks bse of harsh weather conditions in the camp ,I even got an incentive job in the camp as a teacher at vision secondary school but I worked for few months then resigned bse I couldn’t move in the dust to go and teach, I even got threats and attacks on my way to school.
I became more frequent in almost all clinics in the camp bse of asthma attacks.
In august 2018 ,I developed a complication that paralyzed my legs and also in testis in the camp because of beatings from Kenyan police, I couldn’t walk, urinate or bend. I tried to get assistance in IRC hospitals in the camp but they didn’t have machines to conduct ultrasound and scan which I needed so as to be assisted.
I was given a referral to go to Nairobi and in DEC 2018, I was airlifted to Nairobi for treatment.
I thank unhcr and Ncck for the assistance at least now I can walk, but then the complication in the testis has failed hydrocele, am in a lot of pain ,I don’t sleep at night its now 8 months suffering ,I need to get treatment. Am not at peace ,its making life difficult for me.
Last month I was exited from transit at XXXXX were I was being treated under XXXXX .
Am still sick the testis are burning, I was still undergoing treatment at Kenyatta hospital but I was exited abruptly.
The financial assistance got finished in buying painkillers and antibiotics which never help, I don’t have food ,clothes ,rent ,I can’t assist myself in washing ,bathing …I was dumped in community.
Am in isolation, my colleagues who were relocated from kakuma have at least been assisted ,me am side lined, I came to Nairobi with 4 clothes ,all my items were stolen and vandalised immediately I left the camp.
My case was referred to refugee point by unhcr, unlike my fellow colleagues from kakuma ,I was called to do the resettlement interview at refugee point in march this year , but I haven’t gotten any communication from them or from unhcr about what’s going on on my file, I tried so many times to reach my focal person , protection unit, unhcr hotline , helpline but am not given any response. Last week managed to go to refugee point ,but I was not assisted too. I really feel descriminated .
I kindly beg to be assisted get treatment and also need to know what’s going on my case.
Note: Redactions marked by XXXX
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
JOIN THE FIGHT! If you would like to be active in helping we need cash donations, volunteers, and qualified board members who can fundraise: Please write to – nathan@AfricanHRC.org and donate at www.AfricanHRC.org/donate.
READ MASK 1 HERE
READ MASK 2 HERE
BY MELANIE NATHAN