Refugees from the past six decades, including Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek and Dyson, a gay Ugandan, gathered in Washington DC August 3/4 to discuss the challenges that refugees face around the world and to lobby Congress.
60 current or former refugees and asylum-seekers were chosen to participate in the Congress, the first to be held in the United States. It was organised by UNHCR to mark the 60th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention.
Gay Ugandan refugee Dyson was selected and traveled from San Francisco, California. Dyson and a representative from Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration (ORAM) – an NGO that assists lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex refugees and helped resettle Dyson in California – met with staffers in the offices of California Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein, and U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Dyson shared his own personal experiences as a gay refugee and told the staff members about his experiences facing persecution in Uganda, his time in a refugee camp in Kenya, and his integration and resettlement in America. According to ORAM, the staffers stressed their concerns about the situation for LGBTI people in Uganda, and their commitment to applying pressure on the Ugandan government to end persecution.
Dyson asked the representatives to continue their ongoing support on refugee issues, as well as continuing American support for UNHCR’s work.
Wrote Marcel Reynolds, ORAM Communications and Outreach Officer:
"Dyson was thrilled about his visit to the Capitol and said he never could have imagined that he would have ever ended up there."Lilli Tnaib from UNHCR in Washington DC, said that Dyson fled Uganda following heavy persecution and was accepted as a refugee in California in March 2011. Today, he leads a full life as an employee of an LGBT organisation, a group that advocates for rights in the workplace. He is also a gospel singer.
"In 2009, when a strong anti-gay movement swept through Uganda," she says. "Dyson found himself defamed by the press media, due to his sexual orientation. To fight the harrassment, he decided to advocate for a stop to the violence and threats aimed at homosexual individuals."Dyson was the first participant in ORAM’s San Francisco Bay Area Pilot Resettlement Program, a first-of-its-kind initiative partnering with the LGBTI community to help newly-arrived LGBTI refugees construct their lives anew and integrate into American society.
"He approached radio talk shows as a medium from which he could address the issue. There are no gay rights in Uganda and on the way home from a live broadcast interview that was hosted by an anti-gay minister, he was kidnapped at gunpoint, told that he was a rebel fighting the government, and was beaten, stripped, and raped. Afraid to eat the food he was given because of fear of being poisoned while held captive, he became sick and contracted malaria."
"After days of torture, one of the soldiers recognized Dyson from his life as a gospel singer. The soldier helped him to escape. He fled to a UN refugee camp in Kenya but had to leave when other refugees threatened him because of his sexuality. After leaving the camp, he found UNHCR in Nairobi, and eventually found safety as a refugee living in the U.S."
Dyson, says Reynolds, "hopes to continue sharing his story to raise awareness of the needs of other LGBTI refugees."
UNHCR in 2008 issued a first “Guidance Note on Refugee Claims relating to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity,” which will be updated this year. NGOs have been working with UNHCR since June 2009 on plans for protections for LGBT refugees.Work is planned with national asylum systems to adopt the guidelines. This will be tied to training for Refugee Status Determination, again with outreach to nations to take part.
Another aspect is ensuring safe environments for LGBT refugees in countries of asylum, including camps and urban settings. There's much more included a wealth of research and reporting planned work. In April Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR's representative in the United States, told a Washington DC conference that protections for LGBT refugees needed to be "stepped up."
Concerns over weakening American support for refugees led Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to introduce in March the Refugee Protection Act of 2011. The bill would repair some of the most severe problems in the American asylum and refugee systems and strengthen its commitment to providing refuge to victims of religious, political, ethnic, and other forms of persecution.
Video: Dyson tells his story whilst still in Kenya:
Report on the Refugee Congress by TV2Africa:
Refugee Congress Proclamation