Gay asylum seeker recalls devastating moment he knew he had to flee: ‘My parents wanted to kill me’

An image of a Black man set against a red background on a postcard style with a stamp in the left top corner reading "LGBTQ Refugees Welcome".

It’s almost four years since Paul fled Uganda and travelled to Kenya to claim asylum. 

Life at home wasn’t easy for Paul. He had known he was gay for some time, but he kept his sexuality a closely guarded secret – especially from his parents.

It wasn’t just that he feared not being accepted, he was afraid he would be subjected to violence if they knew he was gay.

When they eventually discovered the truth, Paul’s home life took a dramatic turn for the worse. He knew he had to get out.

“My parents wanted to kill me,” Paul tells PinkNews.

“They said I’m now a curse on the family because in my culture, sexuality is highly prohibited and one is seen like a demon.”

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His story is just one that PinkNews is covering this holiday season as part of the LGBTQ Refugees Welcome campaign.

Over the coming weeks, we will share stories of LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and refugees from all across the world. Some have found safety, while others are still grappling with harsh asylum systems that are designed to keep refugees out.

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After his parents discovered he was gay, Paul fled to Kenya, where he applied for asylum. He has spent the last four years at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Kakuma Refugee Camp.

LGBT refugees from South Sudan, Uganda and DR Congo walk on the way to their protest to demand their protection at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Nairobi, Kenya.
LGBT refugees protest for their protection at the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Nairobi, Kenya. (AFP via Getty/YASUYOSHI CHIBA)

He would ultimately like to make his way to the UK or Canada so he can live his life openly as a gay man, but advocacy groups have told him there’s a serious backlog of cases due to the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan and the war in Ukraine.

LGBTQ+ refugees have been assaulted in the camp

Life in the camp is tedious and even dangerous. “Homophobia and transphobia rates are very high. I’ve been assaulted several times. For instance, some refugees pushed me into a ditch and my leg was dislocated. I was cut in the neck by a refugee because of being a homosexual.” 

In the camp, Paul has struck up a friendship with other LGBTQ+ people who are seeking asylum. They do their best to band together and keep each other safe, but it’s not always possible. Many have been assaulted and some have experienced sexual assault, Paul says.

“Everything is really very horrible for us… The food we are given is very little.”

He also says there are issues with access to medication and adequate shelter – he knows of people who have contracted malaria or pneumonia after sleeping outside so they can get away from others who hold homophobic or transphobic views.

What sustains Paul is his friendship with other LGBTQ+ refugees. They look out for each other, they’ve even launched a fundraiser of their own so they can pay for vital supplies.

They are now calling on the international LGBTQ+ community to offer their support for queer refugees and people seeking asylum.

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“Please help us find a solution for all the suffering of LGBTQI refugees in Kakuma,” he says.

“We are also calling on the European Union to please continue with the work they’re doing. They’ve been doing some advocacy for LGBTQI people in Kenya. Please continue with that advocacy so we can get assistance as queer people in Kenya at large.” 

LGBTQ+ refugees are often disbelieved

The Kakuma refugee camp was first set up in 1992 following the arrival of the “Lost Boys of Sudan”, according to the UNHCR. The camp, and a separate integrated settlement, had a population of 196,666 people at the end of July 2020.

PinkNews understands that there are around 800 refugees in the camp who are LGBTQ+.

Staff in Kakuma have been given sensitivity training, but queer refugees can still face discrimination from other refugees and asylum seekers in the camp. Public attitudes towards LGBTQ+ people in Kenya are not kind, and punitive laws make life harder for the queer community.

For refugees like Paul, getting to countries like the UK or Canada is the ultimate goal so they can live openly in a culture that accepts homosexuality.

Ugandan LGBT refugees pose in a protected section of Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya.
Ugandan LGBT refugees pose in a protected section of Kakuma refugee camp in northwest Kenya. (SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty/Sally Hayden)

But that’s not always an easy feat. Daniel Sohege is the director of Stand For All, an asylum advocacy group based in the UK. He says LGBTQ+ people are often not believed by government officials when they apply for asylum on sexuality or gender identity grounds.

“One of the common ones is that they’re asked why they can’t just pretend not to be LGBTQ+,” Sohege tells PinkNews.

“It’s a prevalent attitude within certain elements of government and it has been for decades – it’s not just the Conservatives.

“There’s a culture of disbelief within the Home Office – they want people to prove that they are LGBTQ. We’ve seen cases of them saying, ‘well you’re not in a relationship so you’re not LGBTQ.’

“How do you prove to somebody that you are LGBTQ in a way they will believe?”

That’s one of the reasons PinkNews launched the LGBTQ Refugees Welcome campaign. The initiative is raising funds for Micro Rainbow, a charity that provides safe housing for LGBTQ+ people seeking asylum, and for OutRight Action International’s LGBTIQ Ukraine Emergency Fund, which distributes money to activists on the ground in Ukraine.

The series started last week with the story of Irene and Hanna, a lesbian couple who fled Ukraine after Russia launched its full-scale invasion.

Over the course of six weeks, PinkNews will report on the personal stories of people seeking asylum and refugees to illustrate the painful realities they often face that force them to flee their homes, from familial violence to anti-LGBTQ+ laws.

But that’s not all – the series will also show how a person’s life can change radically when they’re granted asylum. When they can get to safety, LGBTQ+ people have the chance to thrive.

Please give what you can to the PinkNews LGBTQ Refugees Welcome campaign on GoFundMe. Through GiveOut, we will be directly donating to OutRight Action International’s LGBTIQ Ukraine Emergency Fund, helping the activists and organisations on the ground in Ukraine and surrounding countries to support the needs of LGBTQ+ people turning to them for life-saving help.

You can also donate directly to Paul and other LGBTQ+ refugees in the Kakuma Camp here.

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