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Ugandan gays who fled persecution still feel danger in neighboring Kenya

Sunday, August 17, 2014
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A 26-year-old gay Ugandan man, who insisted on anonymity because of fears for his safety, speaks to The Associated Press, in Nairobi, Kenya on Aug. 7, 2014.Ben Curtis, AP

A 26-year-old gay Ugandan man, who insisted on anonymity because of fears for his safety, speaks to The Associated Press, in Nairobi, Kenya on Aug. 7, 2014.

Three years ago, when a 26-year-old gay Ugandan man was caught with another man, his stepfather threatened to report him to authorities and he fled to Nairobi.

“I thought, ‘No one loves you in your family,’” said the man, who insisted on anonymity because of fears for his safety.

With little money in his pocket, he could not afford to stay in the Kenyan capital. He registered with the U.N.’s refugee agency, and for three years he has waited in Kakuma camp for refugee status, which would make him eligible for resettlement in a new country.

The man does not want to stay in Kenya, where same-sex conduct is also illegal, and where a bill recently introduced in parliament proposes that foreign gays be stoned to death. He continued to face harassment in Kakuma but at least he got support from fellow gay Ugandans, he said.

“For the first time, I met these people who were just like me,” he said. “You think to yourself, ‘OK, I’m not alone.’ At least I felt there was someone who understood me.”

But last month he left for Nairobi because he thought the camp had grown too hostile. A Ugandan refugee was hospitalized in June after another refugee hurled stones and slurs at him, said Anthony Oluoch, executive director of the Gay Kenya Trust.

Recognizing the risks for LGBT refugees, the U.N. refugee agency said it is prioritizing their cases for resettlement.

The 26-year-old gay Ugandan has been trying to find work, but few employers in Nairobi are willing to hire a refugee. Two of his seven roommates have turned to prostitution.

The house keeps a special fund for bribing police officers if they are arrested, he said.

Kenyan police could legally send him back to Kakuma. Some police officers have even deported asylum seekers back to Uganda against their will, said Neela Ghoshal, an LGBT rights researcher for Human Rights Watch.

“There’s no place in Kenya where I really think they can live freely and safely,” Ghoshal said of the gay refugees from Uganda. “They’re basically set up for a lot of bad options in life.”

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