uganda: requesting asylum

In all of the news pouring out these last few days, I’ve also been keeping an eye on the story of Brenda Namigadde*, who faces deportation by the U.K. back to Uganda. She has sought asylum based on the fact that she is lesbian and fears for her life on return to Uganda.

Bahati told the Guardian: “Brenda is welcome in Uganda if she will abandon or repent her behaviour. Here in Uganda, homosexuality is not a human right. It is behaviour that is learned and it can be unlearned. We wouldn’t want Brenda to be painting a wrong picture of Uganda, that we are harassing homosexuals.”

Asked what would happen if she did not “repent” he said: “If she is caught in illegal practices she will be punished. If she comes to promote homosexuality, if she is caught in the act, if she is caught in illegal acts, she will be punished. I would be surprised, if she was promoting homosexuality, if she were not arrested.”

She doesn’t even have to claim harassment: an MP of her own country has already publicly made the case that she faces danger in her homeland. Bahati is the author of Uganda’s infamous bill that would make homosexuality a capital offense. I am at a loss to see what more Namigadde must demonstrate to qualify for asylum in the U.K.

Despite fleeing a country with a pending bill for execution of homosexuals and a clearly hostile and dangerously homophobic attitude, she was actually being escorted to Heathrow Airport before being granted a temporary reprieve.

Her initial asylum application had been refused. The Home Office said a court had ruled she was “not homosexual” and therefore did not have a genuine claim.

Prominent gay rights campaigner David Kato was beaten to death near the Ugandan capital Kampala on Wednesday.

Ms Namiggade’s case will now go to judicial review.

Ms Namiggade’s legal team asked a judge to grant an injunction against her deportation, which was due to take place on Friday evening.

The 29-year-old’s lawyer told the BBC his client had already boarded her flight at Heathrow airport when the injunction was granted.

And in fact at this point it hardly matters whether or not she is in fact lesbian, bisexual, or straight. Because of the widespread publicity of her case in both countries, she will undoubtedly be treated as an outed lesbian once back in Uganda.

The issue is hardly unique to the U.K., as this recent article in the NY Times shows: Gays Seeking Asylum in U.S. Encounter a New Hurdle. Stories abound, including this one

Victoria Neilson, legal director of the New York-based Immigration Equality, which provides assistance to asylum seekers, recalled the case of a 21-year-old lesbian who had been threatened with gang rape in her native Albania to cure her of her sexual orientation, but was initially denied asylum, Ms. Neilson said, because she was young, attractive and single, apparently not conforming to the officer’s stereotype of a lesbian. (A judge later granted her asylum, Ms. Neilson said.)

This is ridiculous: all she should need to do is prove her treatment in Albania, not conform to some sort of American — not even her culture — stereotype of what an LGBT individual looks or behaves like. However, sometimes it can be difficult to prove persecution:

Illegal immigrants seeking asylum are interviewed by immigration officers, who can either approve their applications or refer them to an immigration judge. Gay applicants must marshal evidence of their sexual orientation and their risk of persecution, like affidavits from same-sex partners or police and medical reports of abuse. But legal experts said that the burden of proof can be difficult for people from places like Saudi Arabia or Iran where homosexuality is punishable by death and it can be dangerous to be openly gay or report an anti-gay hate crime — or from Western countries that are believed to be sexually tolerant.

So the irony is that people from countries with capital punishment would have had to been executed to “prove” persecution. Whups.

And I think many of us heard about this one, which did provoke international criticism: Czechs using sex arousal test on asylum seekers — which not only is absurd, but what of bisexual men? And what on earth would be the sort of tests deemed appropriate for women?

An EU agency has condemned Czech authorities for using a sexual arousal test on asylum seekers who claim to be gay.

The process, called phallometric testing, involves measuring sexual arousal by monitoring blood flow into the penis. In this case gay asylum seekers are shown heterosexual pornography to see if they get an erection.

If the claimant becomes aroused, their chances of asylum become less likely.

The sort of mindset that thinks these sorts of tests show anything or are necessary in the first place is unfortunately all too common. These tests aren’t much of a step below than thinking a “pretty woman” can’t be a lesbian.

In other cases, discriminatory practices can overlap. Consider this case Kerry Requests Asylum in Case of Gay Man:

The man, Genesio Oliveira, has been separated from his husband [whom he legally married in Massachussets], Tim Coco, since August 2007, when he left the country after his request for asylum and an appeal were denied.

Mr. Oliveira asked for asylum in 2002, saying he was raped and attacked by a physician as a teenager in Brazil and feared persecution because of his sexuality.

Note that the issue here is compounded by the refusal of the U.S. to recognize same sex marriages legalized by individual states. With a straight applicant, the marriage by itself would have automatically granted Oliveira legal immigration status. Instead, he is doubly penalized — by having his marriage ignored, and being forced to try and prove persecution in Brazil. His case is still ongoing.

That said, applying for legal immigration status has been increasingly difficult amid global economic woes and generally high unemployment that there’s been a fair amount of fraudulent applications, including some straight applicants pretending to be gay. (This points to many larger issues, which I won’t address here, of immigration processing, application, the whole notion of borders, “good” and “bad” immigrants, racism, and xenophobia.)


*I have seen her name spelled both Namiggade and Namigadde — not sure which is correct.

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