Quakers have ‘underground railroad’ to help gay Ugandans escape the country

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A group of Quakers have formed an underground network to help gay Ugandans escape the country.

According to Buzzfeed, members of the religious group – also known as the The Religious Society of Friends – have formed an organisation called the Friends New Underground Railroad (FNUR) to help smuggle gay people out of Uganda.

Working with 10 Ugandan “conductors”, the US-based group has funded passage out of the country for around 107 people.

The refugees travel in small groups, first making their way to safe houses in neighbouring countries.

FNUR say that at least 12 people have reached safer countries including South Africa and Sweden, while unconfirmed reports suggest as many as 30 have escaped to Europe.

The group’s organiser, who goes by the name Levi Coffin II, said: “We got into this because we were asked.

“They won’t contact the civil society organizations in Kampala. They don’t think they’d be safe.… They’re all saying they don’t trust those folks.

“Quakers have a long tradition of this kind of work… This is work that we were both literally and figuratively called to do.”

The group’s website states: “We are working with people who feel that the risk of staying there now — with this worsened dangerous situation — means they need to get out first and then work on the rest. We trust those we are assisting to know what they need.

“We are clear that our mission is to assist in the first step of getting LGBTQ people out of Uganda, and the limitations on what we and the ‘conductors’ who work with us are able to provide.

“We are figuring it out as we go, but our core group in Olympia are seasoned grassroots organizers with many years of experience as activists. We did not go into this work lightly and our Meeting didn’t either. We are only doing what we can.”

The Society of Friends has a long-standing reputation as a pro-gay church, and are one of just two churches in the UK that allow same-sex marriage.

However Scott Long of Human Rights Watch has warned the efforts could end up doing harm.

He said: “This is not the kind of stuff that well-meaning amateurs can do, and the money’s basically going to be wasted.

“I fully appreciate the good intentions here, but the organizers [should] be persuaded to subordinate their efforts to a recognized refugee NGO or to the security committee.”