The United Nations’ (UN) World Refugee Day is observed on June 20 each year. This event recognizes the plight and honors the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.It is a day to recognize humanity and the pressures that force individuals and communities into refugee status, as such it’s a global day of observance and not a public holiday.
For years, many countries and regions have been holding their own events similar to World Refugee Day. One of the most widespread events is Africa Refugee Day, which is celebrated on June 20 in many countries. The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to express its solidarity with Africa on December 4th, 2000.
The resolution noted that 2001 marked the 50th anniversary of the 1951 Convention relating to the status of refugees, and the then Organization of African Unity (OAU) agreed to have International Refugee Day coincide with Africa Refugee Day on June 20th. The Assembly therefore decided that June 20 would be celebrated as World Refugee Day from 2001 onwards. This day was designated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to bring attention to the plight of approximately 14 million refugees around the world at the time which has unfortunately increased to an estimated 65 million world over.
Refugees in Uganda started the celebrations for World Refugee Day on Friday 17th June 2016 ahead of the actual celebrations of 20th June 2016 happily honoring the hospitality they receive in Uganda.Uganda has one of the world’s most liberal refugee policies, with over half a million people from war-torn countries within the region seeking shelter here. They come from eastern Congo, South Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, Burundi and the whole great lakes region as a whole.
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), up to 100 people arrived at the huge refugee camps in southwest Uganda every day in May. Currently, refugees mostly from Burundi are urgently looking for shelter in Uganda.
What this day means to the LGBTI people in Uganda and all around the world;
Considering the fact that close to 77 countries around the world criminalize homosexuality, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) People continue to live in hostile situations all across the globe. Such repressive laws in Uganda and other African countries towards sexual minorities have forced many members of the Ugandan LGBTI community to flee to other parts of the Western world for safe haven.
On 20th December 2013, the Ugandan 9th parliament passed the Anti-Homosexuality bill imposing harsh sentences for same-sex acts. The president of the republic of Uganda H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni assented to this and signed it into law on 24th February 2014 in presence of international media.
This was a dark day for the Ugandan LGBTI movement, the local tabloids especially Redpepper and Hello started naming and outing LGBTI activists and their organisations, revealing their names, faces and physical addresses. This resulted into unlawful evictions, arbitrary arrests, job terminations and expulsions from learning institutions, family rejections, physical and verbal attacks towards LGBT persons to mention but a few injustices.
This forced many of these victims to flee to Kenya and seek asylum to be relocated to countries in the world which are LGBTI-friendly. Since then, many of these have managed to go through this process and have been relocated to their final desired destinations while a large number still await processing.
While in Kenya, many of these Ugandan LGBTI refugees have faced different hardships, however endurance stays as the means to getting to their final destinations. The Kenyan government has officially communicated that it is planning to close Kakuma and Dadab refugee camps and this is so devastating to the Ugandan LGBTI refugees who are in these camps awaiting their relocation. Kuchu Times Kenyan correspondent talked to some Ugandan LGBTI refugees in Kenya about this move by the Kenyan government and these were some of their responses;
‘’Repatriation of lgbti persons seeking asylum with serious protection concerns back to their countries of origin would be one painful move that will leave us torn apart. Up to now we haven’t got any communication from the UNHCR and do not know what is going to happen’’ One Ugandan gay refugee said out of anonymity for fear of victimization.
“I’m a lesbian and I’m staying with the Ugandan LGBTI community in Kakuma camp. I think what the Kenyan government is proposing to do isn’t right. They could have waited a bit because we cannot go to any other country in Africa to seek asylum. Apart from Kenya I don’t know any other. They should reconsider their move because of special groups like ours with special cases. “A Rwandan Lesbian refugee told Kuchu Times
In the same line, there has been a rising trend of refugees in Uganda from the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Djibouti and Ethiopia have come out openly to share their lived realities of being a refugee and at the same time an LGBTI person in a country like Uganda with laws that criminalize same sex relations.
Kuchu Times field officer managed to meet one of the coordinators of a support group for LGBTI refugees in Uganda called “Angels Refugee Support Group” which aims at Promoting personal safety and sexual health for LGBT refugees in Uganda. She narrated her experiences as a lesbian ever since she came to Uganda. She confessed that she has experienced various sorts of discrimination in public places because of her appearance. She said that more so the verification process they undergo at the office of the prime minister through the department of refugees, does not favor them sometimes since some officers handling their cases have in most cases attacked them verbally and have no basic knowledge regarding LGBTI matters.
As Kuchu Times, we celebrate this day together with all LGBTI persons all over the world and call upon the Ugandan government as well as other governments that fall in the 77 category to create harmonious environments that limit the rising numbers of LGBTI persons. To the mainstream civil society we hope that this call can reach far and wide so that the issues that create refugees can be addressed wholesomely and inclusively.