New Investigative Article Reveals Abysmal Path for LGBTI Refugees in Africa

Activists outside SA Parliament 2011 Pic: Mel Nathan © 2011-2019

“Ultimately, Nathan believes that the current asylum system is broken for LGBTI asylum seekers and cannot offer them adequate protection. It is “virtually impossible to guarantee safety to someone who is LGBTI and on African soil,” she said.

I first started communicating with Annie Hylton and Malia Politzer almost 2 years ago. They were interested in interviewing me about LGBTQI refugees in and from Africa. Their point of specific interest reflected professionalism at their craft and indicated an already acquired depth of understanding as to the exceptional marginalization of the LGBTQI refugee population in Africa.  Indeed they had already travelled and were heavy on research. I became a source for an almost 2 year investigative piece which they have reported in the newly published article “Caught Between Borders” on LONGREADS, which can be accessed via link below.   This is an extremely important article and if widely read, I truly believe, that by virtue of their credentials and the investigative depth in its delivery, could lead to much needed awareness and possible even change.

Also, the award winning journalists were interviewed themselves for the backstory on a LONGREADS produced Podcast, and once you have read the article – you may find their interview fascinating. What I found touching was how the story impacted the journalists themselves.  The heartfelt part, toward the end, not to be missed, where they are asked about their own feelings for the future of LGBTQI situation in Africa.  The podcast can be accessed below.

The riveting article, reflecting on dramatic and moving personal accounts, begins:

“The first time his father tried to kill him, Ismail* was 15 years old. By the time he turned 19, he had escaped four attempts on his life: Once, he was outside an asylum center in South Africa, where he’d hoped to find safety; other times he was in Somalia, the country from which he fled. His father was intent on killing him to protect the family’s “honor.” No matter where he went, it seemed, his father had enlisted Somali immigrants to mete out his execution. Ismail’s crime? He is gay.” READ more – see link below. 

It also delves into understanding the specific hardships and challenges – and I am appreciative of the acknowledgment in so far as it advances awareness and my hope that it serves much needed change:

“Melanie Nathan, a white South African woman who occupies a small apartment in California’s Marin County, rarely sleeps through the night. Her phone constantly buzzes with desperate calls: One woman from Rwanda, who was forced to flee to Uganda (where a friend offered to help her) after being exposed as a lesbian via social media, was subsequently kicked out of her friend’s house and forced to live on the streets; another, who had just survived a brutal beating, was turned away from a hospital. Some of her callers are so traumatized that they tell her they want to commit suicide, and Nathan is often their last hope.

Nathan’s small organization, the African Human Rights Coalition, is technically dedicated to advocating for LGBTI rights in Africa, but, in reality, most of her time goes to fielding calls from terrified LGBTI Africans seeking safety. Nathan does her best to provide “ad hoc” exile strategies, humanitarian assistance, and general resources and advice — even if she knows that the scant information she can share is woefully inadequate.

For many LGBTI asylum seekers, the only available option is to apply for refugee status with UNHCR directly in a neighboring country.

Sometimes people call Nathan seeking help to escape their countries. “It’s extremely frustrating, because I don’t have a pretty picture to offer someone who is suffering so badly,” Nathan said. While she can tell them where to go, they must make the perilous journey — which is sometimes life-threatening, expensive, and can involve crossing multiple borders — alone. “It’s often extremely dangerous, and then once they arrive they’ll have to be in what is essentially a prison camp for the next three to four years, on the off chance that they’ll be resettled.””

In boldly publishing what may seem like renegade concepts, such as the one I delivered in my idea to change the trajectory for LGBTQI individuals, they have courageously platformed the espousing of long overdue innovation.  I have no doubt critics and gatekeepers will attempt to silence any possible progress, albeit that attempt at progress is mere exploration at this time.

“Ultimately, Nathan believes that the current asylum system is broken for LGBTI asylum seekers and cannot offer them adequate protection. It is “virtually impossible to guarantee safety to someone who is LGBTI and on African soil,” she said. “To be safe, they need to be resettled in a third country — a country that is known to be friendly to LGBTI people,” like the United States, Canada, or one in Europe.

For many, however, that safety is out of reach. Resettlement through UNHCR is a long and arduous process: According to the agency, only 4 percent of refugees in Africa considered to be in need will be resettled in third countries this year, after waiting between one to five years. Because of the persecution LGBTI asylum seekers face in refugee camps, UNHCR tries to prioritize their resettlement — even so, it can take years before the process is complete.”

And so with so bleak a picture – they noted my current advocacy goals – at trying to find ways to avert the draconian systems that simply cannot work for LGBTI people, given the milieu. When you read the whole article, this desperate need for something completely different will make sense- and the new idea (though I have touted it for several years) is in effect premiered. I hope you do read this article – its brilliantly researched, with aspects woven in a way that leads to one crucial reflection:

Nathan believes that the only way to address the unique vulnerabilities of LGBTI asylum seekers is to circumvent the traditional asylum process altogether by creating a special visa for people who are LGBTI and fleeing persecution.

“My question is: How can you protect somebody who has the right to protection, when you are putting them in the same conditions that they ran from?” Nathan asked. “It’s a big flaw in the system. I think you shouldn’t be putting them in the UNHCR system at all.”

Please support this extremely important article by reading it and sharing it….







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


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