7 MASKS 1 STORY – This is MASK 05 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 05, 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.
The following communication reflects on the maltreatment of South African authorities on LGBT asylum seekers. The problems in South Africa are unconscionable, give THAT country, sporting its fully equal constitution, should be a refuge for LGBTQI criminalized on the continent.
The first day went to the home affairs in Pretoria i was let in safe and was taking to new comers waiting area were i was there till about 2pm then i was send to a hall were i and others were there till 4pm then there ask us to go home and come back next week. which i did return the next week. i was taken in for capturing after capturing i was send upstairs for interview so i went and and when i enter the office and meet her eating.
i greeted her but she didn’t answer me rather shouted at me then ask me to come back when she is done eating. that when i went out and was standing there with other nationals. then they started sharing their experience there so complaining of how there are being molested,abuse and insulted using words like eg you Nigerians you left you country to come and be doing crimes.
here they would slap and push there some there interview will demand for money before any interview some pay 5000 rand. and some less some even more.
so when she was done and i enter she ask me what national am. i said Cameroonian. she ask i speak English coz there is no translator there i told her yes i speak English.
then a Somalian lady comes in with a guy and tell her that she is there with the money. so she ask me again to go out let her finish with the guy. that was about 2pm. so i went out and was just standing in front of her office when an other immigration officer came and ask me which agent send me. i ask him agent of what. he then ask me if i dont have money. i told him that before i was let inside the hall for capturing they collected 4500rand from me on the pretest that is for capturing and interview. so i dont understand what he is talking about. she push me out. and ask me to go. then i went again out and stand till the lady was done with the Somalian. i went in she just shouted at me and said time is 3.30 pm and she closes at 4pm.
and she is tired of hearing any lesbian story and said we are not even ashamed i stood there she then ask me to sit. and start the interview. other officers keep coming in to ask her questions about me in one of the local languages. here till an officer came in and talk to her. that she do not need to be told that am a lesbian that from my looks one do not need to be told. then she was calm. then when she was done another lady came into her office she yelled on her like fire .
they still send me away. they say i am not a lesbian. i am a lesbian. i suffer so much all the time torture in cameroon. i am here south africa is equal for lesbians. but the people are too cruel to asylum seekers. where is the law the rules. what good is the constitution that makes bad for other people who are LGBT gay.
then i went there again to submit my appeal i discover that the main entrance was lock. so i when to the exit gate and saw the securities i ask them that were can i deliver this letter of appeal. they said i must pay for my entrance. which i did. even i have no work and no food and no rent.
that was about 8 am when i enter inside i saw people standing under the sun. refugees women with babies. if one even try to ask for directives from a security is either being push or slap on the face or not even answer. so i move from one gate to another. countless time later an officer came and said all those for appeal should make a line which we all did and was under the sun for the whole day and nothing nothing no help. and so lastly it was to go home and come back next week that was it . but the transport money too much.
the treatment we as asylum seekers get there is not fair at all we being treated as slaves like non human right up to a security. like he has the right to abuse people coming to seek asylum. people are being robbed of phones and money. south africa government sleeping or not caring. nothing is being done there is alot to write down but the more i talk about at the i picture what is going on there.
i can call it a business center for south Africans working there not a refugee center sorry to say there we have no right. something need to be done
i will end here for now mom
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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
READ MASK 05 HERE
BY MELANIE NATHAN