Uganda’s recent enactment of a far-reaching, draconian “anti-gay law” has had immediate and devastating consequences for the LGBTQ+ community within the country.
The law, which criminalises any form of advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights, has pushed many individuals into hiding and has led to a surge in migration patterns as people seek safety and refuge elsewhere.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community in Uganda have had to go into hiding, fearing for their lives and the lives of their loved ones. The law has intensified the persecution and discrimination faced by gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans individuals in their own country. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one member of the community described feeling like a refugee, stating, “Is it a crime to embrace my identity? I am scared for my life, and I am scared for my friends and family.”
The impact of the law on the community is profound, with many individuals feeling trapped and marginalised. Some have already made the difficult decision to leave their country altogether and seek asylum in more accepting nations. A lesbian in Uganda expressed the sentiment shared by many, saying, “We are now just going to ask for asylum and leave the country because now it seems like everyone is against us. If the president has signed, we have to look for asylum in countries that will allow us.”
The fear and uncertainty brought about by the law have forced individuals like Francis, a gay man, to consider fleeing to other countries where LGBTQ+ rights are more accepted. He believes that it is unlikely for LGBTQ+ rights to be fully accepted in Africa, making it imperative for him to seek safety elsewhere.
The migration patterns resulting from Uganda’s new LGBTQ law highlight the severe repercussions of discriminatory legislation on already vulnerable communities. LGBTQ+ individuals, who already face a high risk of violence and discrimination, are now forced to leave their homes and seek protection in foreign lands.
The consequences of this mass migration go beyond the individuals directly impacted. Countries that accept asylum seekers from Uganda will see an increase in their LGBTQ+ population, potentially adding strain to their resources and social systems. Furthermore, Uganda will face a loss of talent and diversity as its LGBTQ+ community seeks refuge and opportunities elsewhere.
In Uganda, like many other countries with strict punishments for same-sex relationships, individuals from the LGBTQ+ community such as Francis may consider the option of starting a new life elsewhere. However, there are others who cannot fathom the idea of leaving their country, despite facing discrimination encouraged by the law at every level.
Back in 2014, Kelly Mukwano, a gay rights activist, was brutally attacked for his sexuality and had to be hospitalised. Despite this ordeal, when interviewed by the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper at that time, he expressed his unwavering determination to stay in Uganda.
“This country is my home and I still have love for it,” Mukwano said. “But now I fear that as both a Ugandan and a gay man, survival becomes an insurmountable challenge.”
No Protection Guarantee in the EU
For many individuals in Uganda who are seeking asylum in the European Union, their sexual orientation does not ensure a successful application. While the general asylum applications from Uganda are frequently rejected, the extent to which this changes for individuals facing persecution due to their sexual orientation remains unclear as statistical information on sexuality is not collected by Germany’s Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF).
This uncertainty is not exclusive to Uganda, as individuals seeking asylum from various African countries based on their sexuality have faced rejection in Germany. The application process for protection in the EU, therefore, poses a significant challenge for LGBTQ+ individuals from Uganda.
Recognizing the urgency of the situation, the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, has called for stronger protections to be provided to those fleeing persecution due to their LGBTQ+ identity. It is important to note that Uganda is not the only country criminalising homosexuality, as a total of 66 countries worldwide have laws against consensual same-sex sexual activity.
What adds to the severity of the issue is that 11 countries continue to enforce capital punishment for same-sex relations. These countries include Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. This shows that individuals from Uganda, who face the threat of violence and persecution due to their sexual orientation, are left with limited options for finding safety and security.
The lack of protection guarantee in the European Union raises concerns about the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ individuals seeking asylum. While the EU has taken steps to establish itself as a champion of human rights, it is crucial for member states to address this issue and provide effective protection to those in need.
The international community has condemned Uganda’s anti-gay law as a violation of human rights and an affront to freedom and dignity. Calls have been made to exert diplomatic pressure on the Ugandan government to reverse the law and protect the rights of its citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.