|Picture Kate Kamunde|
The Canadian government has twice denied a visa to a established Kenyan lesbian activist - despite a detailed appeal from her sponsoring organisation.
Kate Kamunde was invited to join a rights training session organised by the Women’s Human Rights Education Institutes (WHRI) in Toronto. She is a poet and founded Artists For Recognition and Acceptance (AFRA-Kenya) in November, 2008.
LGBT Asylum News understands that denials of visas to activists from the 'global south' invited to conferences, to give speeches or attend training sessions like the one in Canada are becoming increasingly common as Western governments 'tighten' visa regimes.
Denials of visas to artists giving concerts or having exhibitions has become a serious problem in the UK and the US.
In August the British government denied a visa to Kasha Jacqueline Nabagesra, a leading lesbian activist in Uganda and the 2011 winner of the prestigious Martin Ennals award for Human Rights.
She had been invited to open Foyle Pride in Derry, Northern Ireland.
Nabagesra has attended numerous speaking engagements around the world. The British visa was denied on the basis that it was claimed that she had not provided "evidence of financial ties to their home country which would indicate that they intend to return home at the end of their proposed visit." That is, they thought she may become an asylum seeker.
The decision was reversed after intervention behind the scenes.
In 2009 Ugandan activist Victor Mukasa was named International Grand Marshall for Toronto Pride and invited with three other Ugandan LGBTI activists. Despite sponsor appeals and having all the necessary documentation and travel support only one of them secured a visa.
Updated to add: Just after publication of this article I was informed that Naome Ruzindana of Horizon Community Association in Rwanda has been denied a visa by Belgium - despite having previously visited that country numerous times. She had been asked for the first time for a personal bank statement. She wrote:
"Am so worried that I still have to explain my status even to the [embassy] people I think knows me well. Am so confused that we can still solicit for this to our so called partners in our respective countries."Update, 18 October: Naome has been granted a visa, following political intervention.
Similarly to Nabagesra, Kamunde's visa was denied in part because the Visa Section of the Canada High Commission in Nairobi questioned "whether the applicant would be likely to leave Canada at the end of his/her authorised stay."
Angela Lytle, the WHRI Executive Director said:
“This being Kate’s second attempt, with our support, to procure a visa to Canada for these purposes, we felt certain that the many institutions supporting her attendance should have enabled her to secure a visa. Kate had full funding from a European funding organization and she had the support of the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission in her home country, as well as our invitation for her to participate in this program."Wanja Muguongo, Executive Director of the East African Sexual Health and Rights Initiative (UHAI-EASHRI), told Melissa Wainaina for Behind The Mask:
“We cannot fathom why her visa was denied on the standard grounds that the Canadian High Commission asserts for visa denials without ever clarifying or elaborating upon how those decisions are made."
“Kate is the first Kenyan national we have worked with who has been refused her visa twice, and so we are led to wonder deeply about the grounds upon which they made their decision.”
“WHRI have been offering globally renowned training institutes in women’s human rights at the University of Toronto for eight years, with dozens of participants who have come to Toronto from around the world to participate and then subsequently returning to their home communities to share their learning within their home organizations, institutions and communities.”
“Foreign missions need to realise that if indeed their governments are true partners in the struggle for human rights then they need to walk the talk.”In August in relation to Nabagesra's visa denial, I asked the Home Office (who lead on foreign policy implications of visa decisions according to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office):
“This process seems unduly prejudiced towards sexual minorities or towards the thought that being a minority makes an applicant more risky and this should never be a factor in their appraisals as it is discriminatory in nature.”
“The missions need to come out clearly on what else they require to allow activists to travel.”
Is the Home Office concerned on how the denial of this visa will be perceived internationally as undermining the government's expressed support for LGBT rights in countries such as Uganda? Support which was underlined by the Prime Minister in June?
Given that she has traveled to numerous countries and returned to Uganda to continue her work there, why would the UK believe that she would abandon this and remain in the UK as opposed to any of these other countries?A UK Border Agency spokesperson said:
"The UK’s reputation for supporting those seeking protection on the grounds of sexual orientation is not in doubt ... However, the onus is on the applicant to demonstrate that they meet the immigration rules."