Angels Refugee Support Group started its operations in the year 2009 by Bibe and other four LGBTI refugees with a vision to create a safe space for LGBTI refugees in Uganda.
When Bibe left his native country to flee to Uganda he says he never knew that he would encounter such homophobia here. From his home country Democratic Republic of Congo, Bibe was among the clan chiefs a position which is hereditary from his family pedigree. Being a first son, he took over this position from his father after his demise.
“Basing on the way I was born, I faced many challenges to adulthood based on my sexuality, my clan members protested that they could never allow to be led by a gay person and that is how my misery begun, due to fear of persecution, I had to flee the country”- Bibe told Kuchu Times
He left DRC for Uganda in 2007. He recalls the journey of Refugee Angels from the initial stages and says it was not simple because even mobilization itself was a very big problem. He turned his single rented room in Makerere- Kikoni into a meeting space where these would meet and strategize on how to run the organisation. Still this got him into big trouble with the authorities as they were suspicious of the people he was hosted in his place.
Later on the number of entrants into the organisation numbers begun swelling and couldn’t fit in a small space thus opting to rent a meeting space at Katwe primary school in the disguise of being a group of young Christians but they were later chased away on allegations that they were of bad influence to the young people around this area. As the organisation progressed, Bibe begun on a journey to establish a strong partnership with other civil society organisations that were working on refugees in Uganda as well as LGBTI organisations.
United Nations High Commission for Refugees office in Kampala turned down Bibe’s request to have them on board to help LGBTI refugees in Uganda for fear of consequences that would follow especially at the time when the effects of the infamous Anti-Homosexuality Bill were clearly noticeable.
He never gave up and finally found solace in Refugee Law Project (RLP). Though the directors were free to allow them in, still they feared the risk of associating with LGBTI refugees. Bibe and group were still wandering around different spots of Kampala especially Ethiopian village in Kabalagala for meeting space. These later were given a meeting space at Refugee Law Project.
Angels Refugee Support Group is composed of LGBTI refugees from neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi, majority from DRC and these days they have started receiving some members from Kenya. Like any other organizing civic space, Bibe attests that they have many challenges both internally and externally but they are still pushing on.
These have faced a series of office raids during their journey of advancing for the rights of LGBTI refugees in Uganda and as a result of these raids, some members have faced life inside police cells of Wandegeya police station on charges of promoting homosexuality.
“Why are you bringing your filthy agenda here from your home country?”-Police officers at old Kampala police station asked Bibe he was detained and interrogated for hours only to be bailed out with help of lawyers from Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) and Refugee Law Project.
In search for a more secure and conducive space, Angels has now well settled in the same space for the past for years and here LGBTI refugees usually meet for HIV/AIDS counseling, for some to get updates about their pending cases of relocation to their desired final destination, some who face insecurities come here for solution and how to be helped to relocate to a safer place.
Bibe says that some of their members who are trans women and sex workers have always faced a challenge of harsh clients who torture them and sometimes turn them into police cells on charges of impersonation. He says that they at least register such similar cases every month and coordinate with community lawyers on how to have these bailed out.
Still adding on challenges faced by these LGBTI refugees, some have been unlawfully evicted from their rented premises by their landlords and all this sometimes has been as a result of language barrier challenge since most of these refugees don’t understand the native languages and commonly use French which is different to English Uganda’s official language. Police usually asks these to pay high fares in order for some of their arrested members to be released which usually a big problem is basing on the fact that Angels operates on a minimal budget and some of such occurrences are not budgeted for.
Since inception, Bibe says that they have been able to register seventy five cases of LGBTI refugees that have been relocated from Uganda to Europe and USA. In total they have a total of one hundred sixty two members across Uganda, fifty four in Kampala and the rest in refugee camps of Nakivale, Kyangwale and Kyaaka. Among these, Nakivale has the highest number of LGBTI refugees from sister countries.
HIAS, Refugee Law Project have played a big role in these relocation cases. However Angels is proud of having been able to register this large number of its members being relocated to other LGBTI friendly countries, they say instead they are registering more cases these days of new members arriving in Uganda currently and that many of these are coming from Rwanda and Congo. This influx also comes with other related problems in maintaining these people based on scarcity of resources.
Angels has done a lot to avert such of these challenges like computer literacy skills, hair dressing, bakery, English lessons and more skills.
Trans women dominate numbers in Angels Refugee Support group and Bibe confirms that most of these since they are unemployed, they resort to sex work for survival