June 20 is the day the world commemorates the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees. Held every year, World Refugee Day also marks a moment for the public to show support for families and people that are forced to flee their homes for safer dwelling.
Organisation for Gender Empowerment and Rights Advocacy- OGERA, a sex worker led organization for lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgenders and Refugee sex workers living and working in Uganda commemorated this day with refugee sex workers living in Kampala as a sign of solidarity under the Global Theme “With Refugees”. The event that was attended by over sixty participants from the neighboring countries of Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Kenya, South Sudan, and Tanzania
It was a day of storytelling and sharing experiences as sex workers living in a foreign land. Many of these narrated their various reasons for fleeing their home countries. For many, the political insurgences made it impossible for them to stay in their homes, others fled due to the social pressure surrounding their sexuality or gender identity while others were in search of greener pastures. To make ends meet in their new locations, several people have turned to sex work- a line of work is criminalized by the Penal Code Act and the Anti pornography Act.
Kuchu Times asked some of the participants what this day meant to them and Jane (not real names) told intimated that she is a refugee from Congo who escaped from an abusive domestic relationship and came to Kampala to start a new life. On arrival in Kampala, all her belongings were robbed and she was forced to live off the hand outs of strangers. Before long, she resorted to sex work and made friends on Rubaga Road; she then joined a sex workers organisation and has never looked back.
Shamie Batte the Executive Director for OGERA said that World Refugee Day is important to sex workers in Uganda because they use this annual celebration to acknowledge and celebrate their colleagues in OGERA- it is their way if showing their unwavering solidarity and support.
“It’s a day to inspire other Refugees to live happily despite all the unpleasant circumstances that happened to them back home. This day means a lot to OGERA considering the fact that this one of our key target groups. It creates awareness about the issues that affect refugee sex workers in a foreign country like Uganda,” Miss Batte explained.
She added that such a day gives them an opportunity to celebrate the lives of Refugees together with the entire world. OGERA being a human rights organization has used the annual Refugees Day has laid a platform for them to create awareness and show the world that the lives and well being of refugees who engage in sex work do matter.
Batte told Kuchu Times that in their mobilization efforts to bring together these sex worker refugees as well as bridge the health service delivery gap, they have experienced a problem of language barrier since most of the refugees come from non English speaking countries.
“There was a high demand based on the high population of Refugees who operate in urban settings and selecting a few out of them was a huge challenge considering our limited resources. As OGERA we shall continue engaging Refugee sex workers in several activities that improve their livelihoods ie vocational training, functional adult literacy, life skills training and psycho-social support so as to them adjust to the Ugandan context,” Miss Batte pledged.
OGERA urges the Refugees who are either LGBTI or sex workers to unite despite their different sexual orientations, gender identities, race, origin, nationality and nature of work. Let's stand together and embrace diversity amongst the LGBTI & Sex worker movement,” the OGERA ED further commented.
“OGERA will continue to create awareness about the welfare needs of Refugee sex workers to lay a platform for full engagement at high level programming as a strategy to address the high prevalence of HIV amongst female sex workers. If we leave other vulnerable groups behind in the fight against HIV then we shall not reach out target of 90 90 90 with an increase in HIV infections,” Miss Batte Conclude.