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Anti-Gay Bill in Nigeria, Uganda Endangers LGBT Refugees

Saturday Jan 18, 2014
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One week after Nigeria enacted new anti-gay legislation, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni yesterday aired a mixed opinion on the anti-homosexuality bill passed by the Ugandan Parliament last month. He did not propose to veto it outright. The Ugandan bill proposes to worsen punishment of homosexual acts by up to life imprisonment, would criminalize actions deemed to be ’promotion’ of homosexuality, and would require service providers to report LGBTI people to the police.

Meaningful protection is already often unattainable for internally displaced LGBTI Ugandans and refugees who have fled to Kampala from surrounding countries. Because Uganda is one of the most politically stable countries in the African Great Lakes region, numerous migrants, including LGBTI individuals, move from neighboring countries to seek asylum and refugee status in Uganda. As a leading refugee advocate stated in ORAM’s documentary film "No Place for Me",

"I haven’t met any refugee who has claimed asylum on the basis of being persecuted as a sexual minority, even though I have met many clients who - when they tell you the story of why they left their country [to come to Uganda] - that was the primary reason."

ORAM - Organization for Refuge, Asylum & Migration - demonstrated in recent field research[1] that LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers are already particularly vulnerable to pervasive violence and abuse. As a female transgender refugee explained when asked why she would not report frequent transphobic attacks to the police, "It’s like you are taking yourself to jail." [Download Uganda Fact sheet at http://bit.ly/1aevN8U]

LGBTI refugees’ fear of social and health workers was also already a problem. As a Ugandan social worker reported, "Most of these [LGBTI] clients have never accessed any health services, because they fear to mention exactly what they are facing." If enforced, the anti-homosexuality bill would entirely cut off refugee, social, and health services to this community, including HIV/AIDS care.

If the Ugandan anti-homosexuality bill is passed, those who provide assistance to LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers may be targeted and punished.

LGBTI refugees in Uganda already suffer from a hostile social environment on account of both their sexual orientation or gender identity, and their migrant status. "Most of the LGBTI refugees we interviewed for the Blind Alleys study live in utter isolation," explained ORAM Executive Director and founder, Neil Grungras. "Those who can escape the persecution will begin another long and perilous journey, ending up as refugees or asylum seekers in other places where they may again face violence and discrimination. Legislation of this sort - in any country - puts all LGBTI refugees in a region in peril for their lives. People will die fleeing for safety."

ORAM stands with Nigerian and Ugandan human rights groups and defenders in the struggle for equal protection for LGBTI citizens and refugees alike.

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