‘Grave concerns’ after Tories refuse to help LGBTQ+ Ugandans facing death penalty

Uganda UK refugees

An MP and charities working with LGBTQ+ refugees have urged the government to open safe routes for LGBTQ+ Ugandans to seek refuge in the UK. 

On Monday (29 May), Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni signed the Anti-Homosexuality Act into law. The legislation allows the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality” and possible life imprisonment for just taking part in gay sex. 

The new law defines “aggravated homosexuality” as same-sex sexual activity involving those with HIV or who are disabled, as well as non-consensual criminal sex acts towards children and those who are drugged against their will.

Charities have expressed serious concern over the law and the impact it will have on innocent LGBTQ+ Ugandans, especially given that there is currently no safe, legal route to the UK.    

Labour MP Chi Onwurah has already asked Robert Jennrick, the minister of state for immigration, what safe and legal routes the Home Office has made available “to the UK for asylum seekers from Uganda who identify as LGBT”.

On 26 April, the minister issued his response and was quick to insist that the UK has a “proud history of supporting refugees” but admitted “we are unable to make routes available for every eventuality”. 

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Following the Anti-Homosexuality Act being signed into law, PinkNews approached the Home Office to find out if the government would consider changing its policy, now the death penalty had officially been legalised for use against LGBTQ+ people. 

LGBTQ+ campaigners from African Equality Foundation protest opposite Westminster Abbey. (Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)

However, they failed to provide firm information, instead stating details relating to already-established resettlement routes. 

A spokesperson said: “The UK government is appalled that the government of Uganda has signed the deeply discriminatory Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law. We will continue to stand up for these rights and freedoms in Uganda and around the world.

“We have a proud history of providing safe and legal routes for those who need it, and the UK’s current offer is the most generous in recent history. Since 2015, we have offered a place to over half a million men, women and children seeking safety, including those from Hong Kong, Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine, as well as family members of refugees.”

Refugees will be met with ‘callousness and cruelty’

Following the Home Office statement, Onwurah said: “The Ugandan government passed a bill imposing the death penalty for homosexuality, making it effectively illegal for LGBTQ+ people in Uganda to be who they are.

“Yet despite this attack on human rights and freedoms, the Conservative government could not answer my very simple question on what asylum routes were available to LGBTQ+ Ugandans, who now could face death and persecution from their own government.

“As chair of the Africa APPG [All Party Parliamentary Group], this is of grave concern to me.

“Given Rishi Sunak has pledged that everyone will be locked up on arrival even if they are vulnerable or have fled persecution, the government must outline the safe and legal routes available to LGBTQ+ Ugandans.”

Sebastian Rocca, the chief executive of Micro Rainbow, told PinkNews how the organisation is currently working with 14 LGBTQ+ Ugandans who were forced to flee the country. 

“The reason they, and all other Ugandans we have worked with over the past 10 years, left the country is [the] persistent anti-LGBTQI violence and persecution, and their desire to live life fully,” Rocca said. 

Members of the Economic Freedom Fighters protest against Uganda’s anti-homosexuality bill at the Uganda High Commission. (Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

“Our beneficiaries have shared terrible accounts of persecution: from blackmailing to sexual and physical abuse [and] imprisonment, just for being themselves.” 

Rocca continued by saying that the anti-gay law will force people to make “impossible” choices.

“Many who do leave, will face a treacherous journey with no current hope of a ‘legal’ route to safety in the UK.

“They will also find a very hostile environment, including the possibility of being sent to Rwanda.

“We need the UK government to create safe legal routes for people fleeing persecution from Uganda and the many other countries where LGBTQI people are persecuted. 

“We need to build an asylum system that British people can be proud of.”

In response to the government’s stance, Rainbow Migration told Pink News that if the Tories want to defend LGBTQ+ rights “it should start by ditching the Refugee Ban Bill, which will make it almost impossible for LGBTQI+ Ugandans to find safety in the UK”.   

The spokesperson for the charity added: “As Pride Month begins, it’s important to remember that many LGBTQI+ people can’t be themselves and that we should welcome people who want to rebuild their lives in safety here.” 

“With the Refugee Ban Bill, this government is doing exactly the opposite, by sending a message that anyone seeking sanctuary in the UK will be met with callousness and cruelty.”

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