Anne Nasozzi was deported to Uganda on Wednesday 9th April

 

Openly lesbian Anne Nasozzi was deported to Uganda last night. Despite threats to the entire gay and lesbian community, Anne Nasozzi was deported, from the United Kingdom, to Uganda. Despite death threats against her personally, Anne Nasozzi was taken from Yarl’s Wood to the airport, where she was put on a Kenya Airways flight. There is no asylum, there is only disgrace, injustice, violence, visited more often than not on women.

Until December of last year, Anne Nasozzi lived in a village, where she earned her keep by renting out ten rooms. Remarkably, Nasozzi chose to rent her rooms to gay women, and so, thanks to her courage, eleven lesbians lived together, formed community together, and built a kind of haven together, for each other.

In December, a mob of `neighbors’, councilors, and members of Anne Nasozzi’s family attacked the house. Much of the property was razed to the ground. Residents who couldn’t get away were severely beaten. Anne Nasozzi escaped.

She fled to a friend’s house. There she managed to secure the deed to her house, the only thing still standing on her property, sold it, and fled to England. She arrived in England in December. From December until yesterday, Anne Nasozzi was imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood. That’s the State response to women, and especially African women, who seek asylum.

Anne Nasozzi describes being shipped to Uganda as “assisted suicide.” She’s too kind. It’s torture and murder, and it’s a disgrace.

Reports suggest that, in Uganda, those `suspected of homosexuality’ are hunted, imprisoned, and tortured. The State recently raided a clinic famous for its clinical and research work in HIV and AIDS, the Makerere University Walter Reed Project. Why? Because the clinic was “recruiting gays”, this according to the police spokesperson. The gay and lesbian community is being hunted and persecuted and worse. There is no question about this.

At the same time, the Uganda Human Rights Commission released a report yesterday that documents a dramatic increase in the number of people illegally detained and in the incidence of torture, cruelty, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Dangerous overcrowded prisons are ruled by an iron hand of violence. This awaits Anne Nasozzi.

If there is a rule of law in this story, it’s the law of man’s inhumanity to man … or better to women. The endpoint of efficiency driven, fast-track so-called asylum procedures is disgrace. This disgrace is not a state of being nor is it an affective domain. It’s a transitive verb, a relentlessly vicious and violent campaign to strip ever more grace from those who cherish it the most, from those whom we should cherish. There is no asylum, there is only disgrace and violence. Anne Nasozzi was deported to Uganda yesterday. Remember that.

 

(Image Credit: AlJazeera)

What Dembe, Mari, Masani, and Flavirina knew and what they learned

Dembe Ainebyona has suffered: State violence, mob violence, rape. Ainebyona is a 31-year-old lesbian, originally from Uganda, currently living in the Cape Town metropolitan area. In 2009, she applied for asylum status in South Africa. Unaware of South Africa’s liberal laws concerning LGBTQ people, Ainebyona hid her lesbian identity and hid the real reasons she had fled Uganda. She was denied asylum. Her appeal comes up in a few months.

This is not a story about Uganda. This is a story about South Africa and the reality of its so-called liberal laws as lived by LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers. It’s not a pretty story.

A recent report, Economic Justice: Employment and Housing Discrimination Against LGBTI Refugees and Asylum Seekers in South Africa, read against the account of Dembe Ainebyona, reveals a story, that of asylum seekers and refugees in the Cape Town area.

Why focus on Cape Town? Dembe Ainebyona lives there. It’s a global tourist as well as refugee destination. It’s a `model’ for neoliberal urban redevelopment.

And this: “In July 2012, the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) closed its Cape Town RRO [Refugee Reception Office] and refused to accept any new requests for asylum at the location. The temporary shutdown was particularly problematic for undocumented LGBTI newcomers because it placed them at risk of detention and subsequent repatriation. In fact, the largest population of refugees and asylum seekers reside in Cape Town. To push back, PASSOP and other advocates protested outside the closed RRO. Another human rights organisation also challenged in court the legality of the RROs closing. In July 2012, the Western Cape High Court ordered the DHA to continue accepting new asylum applications until the court provided a final determination on the case, thereby providing new asylum seekers entering Cape Town interim relief. After months of rallies and public outcry spearheaded by PASSOP, the Western Cape High Court ordered in March 2013 that the RRO fully resume operations by July 2013. However, despite these 2012 and 2013 court rulings, it was reported in April 2013 that the Cape Town RRO had not accepted any new applications since June 2012.” Welcome to Cape Town!

Here’s the story of Mari, Masani, and Flavirina, residents of Cape Town.

Mari: “Lesbian asylum seeker Mari has an educational background in finance management and worked as an accountant in her home country of Angola. She reports that she had two interviews where, after having a positive reception on the phone, the potential employer would not even ask for her CV or paperwork after meeting her in person and assuming her sexual orientation … Mari, who recently escaped from Angola with her girlfriend, explained that she and her girlfriend had to sell all of their possessions and combine their savings to purchase plane tickets to flee to South Africa. Since arriving in Cape Town, they have been unable to find work and therefore are unable to afford housing. (Mari explains that despite their efforts to find employment, they are extremely limited because they cannot seek asylum seeker status and obtain legal documentation since the Cape Town DHA office has stopped accepting new arrival applicants.)”

Masani: “Lesbian refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable as they are often victims of sexual assault. As a result of discriminatory attitudes, police officers do not take reports of sexual assaults targeting the LGBTI community seriously. [Masani, a Ugandan lesbian] explains that police often respond with additional harassment when speaking with victims, asking questions such as, `How can you enjoy sex with ladies?’”

Flavirina: “Flavirina arrived in Cape Town from Burundi as a guest for an LGBTI/transgender conference. When people in her hometown heard why she had left the country, an official from Burundi contacted her and warned her to stay out of the country or she would likely be imprisoned or attacked upon her return. She applied for refugee status in South Africa and is still pending a determination. Since living in South Africa, she has lived in various shelters, on the streets and is currently living in a township. At one point, Flavirina found refuge at a Christian shelter, where she had to hide both her Muslim religion and her gender identity. The shelter separated the living quarters by gender, forcing her to share showers, dressing rooms, and other living quarters with men. As the shelter did not allow new members to leave the premises for the first three months of their stay, Flavirina was trapped in this environment, having to dress and act male. After coming out to the pastor in charge of the shelter, he told her he could no longer guarantee her safety.”

Most interviewees in this report were aware of the protections in South Africa’s Constitution, and the minority that were not came to the country following rumors of tolerance in the nation’s communities.” They found violence and promise, persecution and hope. They found that, in South Africa, life can be hard and dangerous for lesbians. They found as well that, in South Africa, life can be hard and dangerous for women marked as `foreigner’.  As non-national Africans and as lesbians, they face housing and employment discrimination.

In February, Free Gender, the Khayelitsha-based Black lesbian organization, celebrated 20 years of democracy and lamented 20 years of fear. They celebrated the rule of law as they decried the rule of violence and torture.

For those who decry and work to reverse the current wave of homophobic legislation, continue to do so. At the same time, ensure your country has more than good laws. Make sure you welcome and care for the stranger in your strange land, whoever she may be.

 

(Video Credit: The Atlantic Philanthropies / YouTube)

Jackie Nanyonjo died last Friday

Jackie Nanyonjo

My grandmother did not die of uremic poisoning. She died because she was in hiding, in Nazi-occupied Brussels, and could not get the medical care she needed. And so she died and was buried in an unmarked grave in a potter’s field `somewhere in Brussels’.

Jackie Nanyonjo died in Kampala, Uganda, last Friday. Jackie Nanyonjo was a lesbian who fled Uganda, made it to England, and applied for asylum. In so doing, she joined women like Betty Tibikawa, Linda Nakibuuka and so many other Ugandan lesbians who, having asked for safe haven, trade one rung of hell for another.

Jackie Nanyonjo fought for the rights, power and dignity of women, LGBTI individuals and communities, lesbians, asylum seekers. She fought for those rights on the streets; in the cells and corridors of Yarl’s Wood; and in the airplane that took her, abducted her more accurately, to Kampala two months ago. When she arrived in Kampala, she went into hiding. She didn’t contact members of the organized LGBT rights communities, most likely because of the current pogroms against lesbians and gays and their organizations. And so, on Friday, March 8, 2013, International Women’s Day, Jackie Nanyonjo died, in hiding, in Kampala.

Friends report that she was in poor health in the United Kingdom and in very poor health when she arrived in Kampala.

My grandmother did not die of uremic poisoning. Jackie Nanyonjo did not die of poor health. They were both killed. May they both rest in peace. May we do better than merely remember and intone their names.

 

(Photo Credit: PinkNews)

 

Betty Tibikawa’s asylum nightmare

Yarl’s Wood

Betty Tibikawa is a Ugandan lesbian who has applied for asylum in the United Kingdom. She has been turned down and sits in Yarl’s Wood, waiting to be deported, struggling to live.

Betty Tibikawa’s family has disowned her. The infamous Ugandan tabloid, the Red Pepper, identified Tibikawa as lesbian, and so extended the threat to her life and well being.

And she has been tortured. Having just graduated from high school, Betty Tibikawa was preparing to go to university in Kampala when three men abducted her. They took her to an abandoned building and branded her thighs with a hot iron. They left her unconscious. She remained at home, in bed, for two months. In the home of the family that then disowned her for being lesbian.

The United Kingdom Border Agency has decided that Betty Tibikawa shall not receive asylum. The scars are real, and they do indicate having been branded with a hot iron, but she shall not remain in the United Kingdom. Has the agency decided, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Uganda is now magically safe for LGBTQ persons? That can’t be. There’s too much evidence to the contrary. Is Betty Tibikawa not lesbian enough for the UKBA, and thus not in enough danger? Being tortured, being abducted, being threatened by a national newspaper, being disowned and abandoned by one’s family aren’t enough? What would be credible enough?

Betty Tibikawa’s story is an old story, a familiar story. In pleading for asylum, Tibikawa is  “at the mercy of states not only jealous of their own sovereignty but dominant on the international scene, pressed to intervene here rather than or sooner than there”. Hers is a story of mercy, a test of the sovereign nation-State’s capacity to engage in mercy. The State has failed … again.

She has come before strangers and revealed herself. She has been prodded, poked, interrogated, poked again, prodded again, all in the name of some sort of science. In this, Betty Tibikawa mirrors Saartjie Baartman, a Khoisan woman brought to France, an African woman who, in the end, “craved … mercy. Mercy. I was one colored woman against a thousand dead white men.” All she craved was mercy. She found none. She found, instead, European men who claimed science, who claimed mercy.

Betty Tibikawa mirrors as well Joseph “John” Merrick, the “Elephant Man”, who looked at the world of English scientists and doctors and wondered aloud, “If your mercy is so cruel, what do you have for justice?” The doctors responded that Merrick had much to learn about science, about religion, about mercy.

Where is mercy?

Is it to be found in a court of law? Does mercy abide anywhere in the processes of asylum? Do mercy and justice ever meet? What crime did Betty Tibikawa commit? The crime of self knowledge? The crime of knowing whom she loves? The crime of love itself?

Betty Tibikawa says she can’t sleep and has terrible nightmares. The current practice of asylum is a nightmare, a nightmare from which we all must try to awake. Meanwhile, Betty Tibikawa waits to be deported back to Uganda.

 

(Photo  credit: Dan Chung / Guardian)

 

Not just another murder, Brenda Namigadde

On February 4, 2006, almost five years ago, Zoliswa Nkonyana, “a young Khayelitsha lesbian”, was chased by a group of 20 or so young men. When they caught up with her, they clubbed, kicked and beat her to death. They tortured her to death for being lesbian, for being openly lesbian, for being a woman, for being.

It took two weeks for the news of her brutal murder to finally reach the media. The police didn’t make much of the death or its circumstances. The press in Khayelitsha, five years ago as today, is marked largely by its absence. It was `just another murder.’

Five years later, the case is still open, the trial is not yet finalized. Memorials will take place, no doubt, protests and commemorations.

Yesterday, January 26, 2011, gay rights activist David Kisule Kato was brutally murdered in Mukono, Kampala, Uganda. Kato was the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda. Along with Julian Pepe Onziema and Kasha Jacqueline, Kato had recently won a case against Rolling Stone, restraining it from publishing photos and names of gay men and lesbian women. The High Court ruled that the tabloid violated the rights to privacy and safety. This time the news of the murder spread quickly. The Kampala police claimed, almost immediately, that they’re on the case.

In both instances, and so many others, the assault is on the right to public being, the right to access as gay men and lesbian women, to public spaces, to common and shared experiences, to mutual recognition.

Brenda Namigadde is a woman from Uganda. She fled Uganda in 2003 after her house was destroyed and her life was threatened … because her life partner was a woman. Namigadde fled to the United Kingdom, where she sought asylum. She was turned down, because of insufficient proof of `being lesbian’. Now Namigadde sits in Yarl’s Wood, and awaits, in terror, to be deported to Uganda.

One way to honor the memory of Zoliswa Nkonyana, of David Kato, of all the other gay men and lesbian women who have been brutalized, tortured, murdered, for the sin of being gay in public, for the sin of sharing their love in the common and shared spaces, is to make sure that Brenda Namigadde and other gay and lesbian asylum seekers are not transported back to the House of Death. If not, then Zoliswa Nkonyana, David Kato, and all the others, they’re just another murder.

 

(Mosaic of Zoliswa Nkonyana by Ziyanda Majozi. Thanks to inkanyiso.org)