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Monday, 1 August 2011

Conference hears how Uganda is generating LGBT refugees

Protest in front of the Cameroon High Commission in South Africa, December 10, 2007 (@IGLHRC)
Source: Pambazuka News

By Jeff Ogwaro

The International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) international conference – which took place in Kampala, Uganda, over the period 3–6 July 2011 on the theme of ‘Governing migration’ – hosted two roundtable discussions on issues of forced migration and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-sex (LGBTI) factor.

Hassan Shire, executive director of East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders’ Project (EHAHRDP) and the chair of EHAHRDP-Net, the network body hosted by the same organisation, outlined some of the factors leading to persons seeking to migrate to other countries such as laws that criminalise homosexuality – as is the case in Uganda – and the resultant prosecution, police harassment and public ridicule of LGBTI persons. Not long ago, a bill outlawing the act of homosexuality as well as ‘promoting’ homosexuality, which puts the work of many organisations and individuals that work with LGBTIs at risk, was proposed. LGBTI persons in Uganda have faced a lot of trouble because of their sexuality. They have been arrested, sacked from jobs, thrown out of houses by landlords, ostracised by their families, friends and immediate community, threatened with violence and undergone tremendous psychological stress. As a result organisations such as EHAHRDP have had to help with relocating particularly homosexual LGBTI human rights defenders, either within the country or abroad for safety and psychological respite.

Adrian Jjuuko, the coordinator of the Uganda Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights Constitutional Law, a body that was formed to counter the proponents of the anti-homosexuality bill in Uganda, explained the legacy of the anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda as being from the so-called common law that was from the colonial era and also elaborated on other proposed laws that are meant to discriminate against LGBTI persons. A case he gave is the Equal Opportunities Bill, which excludes sexual minorities from accessing the Equal Opportunities Commission as a mechanism when discriminated against, say, in social services provision.

According to Jjuuko, the implications of criminalising homosexuality include criminalising just the identity, relegating LGBTIs to second-class citizenship, police harassment, possibilities of blackmail and being accused of recruiting children. The options that remain for LGBTI persons when faced with the prospects of being prosecuted are to get out of the country, stay in the country and get harassed, arrested or prosecuted, and become internally displaced – which usually means relocation to a part of the country where one is not known and staying discrete while there.

The question ‘Do LGBTIs fall in the definition for forced migration?’ is pertinent. Is it an accepted reason for migration? These questions have been asked amidst a backdrop of deportation of LGBTI asylum seekers from countries such as the UK.


Some of the other issues discussed and which are related to LGBTI asylum included asylum-seeking processes for LGBTI asylum seekers that are very controversial, such as having to prove one is LGBTI by association and by relationships they have or have had. Some LGBTI fear to state that as a reason for their seeking asylum and instead give other reasons. Bisexual asylum seekers even find it more challenging because their sexuality is then called to question. Generally the mix between xenophobia, homophobia and transphobia make it difficult for LGBTI forced migrants to seek help or even to be helped with resettlement.

Liesl Theron, the executive director of Gender Dynamix, a South African transgender organisation, expressed concern that in some of the countries, all-inclusive laws were drafted but the process was top-heavy with little or no consultations with the grassroots populace. This has more often than not led to backlash on the LGBTI community in those countries. "There was no community consultation on the South African Constitution about non-discrimination of LGBTIs," she said – a case of a good law on paper. That is why there is a backlash on the community – corrective rape of lesbians and transgender men, and violence and killings.

Jeff Ogwaro is programme officer with the Uganda Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights Constitutional Law.

This article forms part of the 'IASFM13: Governing migration' special issue, produced in collaboration with the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) and the Refugee Law Project, Faculty of Law, Makerere University, Kampala.

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