BOSTON, Mass. — Federal immigration officials in Boston are seeking to deport a 19-year-old gay Ethiopian man, where he is likely to be persecuted and imprisoned.
The move comes just days after President Obama criticized a harsh new anti-gay law in Uganda, while Ethiopia is argued to have even harsher penalties.
U.S. officials arrested the young man in January, shortly after he lost his student visa, and brought him before an immigration judge twice last month for deportation. He has told U.S. officials he fears for his safety if sent back to Ethiopia.
“This is a very serious deal,” the student’s uncle told The Boston Globe, “Back in his country, it will be like death.”
The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, identified himself as gay in an online forum while looking for support from the college community.
In Ethiopia, same-sex acts are illegal and punishable by up to 15 years in prison. In addition, under its anti-terrorism law anyone who states what the government deems terrorism (which can include human rights criticism) can be imprisoned for 20 years, without a warrant.
Ethiopia’s anti-advocacy law bars charities and nongovernmental organizations that receive more than 10 percent of their funding from abroad from participating in activities that advance human rights and the promotion of equality.
Collectively, the laws create a dangerous environment for LGBT Ethiopians to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Ethiopian LGBT rights advocates have sharply criticized U.S. authorities.
Article continues below“Considering the current situation and the increasing trend of homophobia, we urge the U.S. government not to put this young man’s life in danger,” said a spokesperson for the advocacy group Rainbow Ethiopia, who could not be identified for fear of his family’s safety.
“The situation right now is very volatile and hostile for LGBT people in Ethiopia especially after Uganda’s anti gay law has been passed,” he said.
“I wish the U.S. could show compassion and not send this young man to an almost certain death,” added Moges Zelalem, who moderates the Facebook support group Ethiopia Gay Library.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement have so far declined interview requests.