7 MASKS 1 STORY – This is MASK 04 out of 7 MASK stories which will be told each day this week: If you care you will share!
If you have been following the series and already read this intro, you can skip to the header MASK 04, below:
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 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.
Good evening, We are three lesbians who fled our country from violent abuse and torture. we appreciate all the help, care, concern and the great help you are rendering to us.
We arrived in Kenya on XXXX of 2018 and we haven’t got any support and any documents that allow us to stay in the Urban area. We cannot access any jobs and we are not on any financial assistance from the UNHCR and HIAS. The condition we are in is unbearable, we have through a lot, torture, abuse, neglect and isolation by our friends, relatives, family members and community back home. We are having restless nights and living in fear because of the lack of this documents and we are forced to always look over our shoulders due to the worry of not having any Legal documents that can support our stay here.
We are at the moment living in a XXXXX called XXXX but the situation is really not good, we have no bedings, no food to eat and as we speak the landlord is threatening to throw us out of the house because we owe him last months rent(May).
Since we arrived in Kenya we have never got any assistance or protection whatsoever, all we have is a document that we were able to acquire from RAS which is pushing us to Kakuma Camp and yet they are no longer registering any LGBTI members there. We have only been able to meet one of the protection officers at UNHCR who just promised to help but has not yet helped and yet we need Urban documents.
We are writing this with deep sorrow, a lot of pain and agony within our hearts which are filled with all the bitter memories of what we went through because of our nature, we are kindly requesting that you please lend us a hearing ear because we badly need help, support, assistance and protection.
XXXXX indicates redaction
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
READ MASK 03 HERE
READ MASK 04 HERE
BY MELANIE NATHAN