Uganda's other refugee crisis: Discrimination forces many LGBT Ugandans to seek asylum

Sitting on a crate outside his mud-walled house in Kibera, the largest slum in Kenya, 30-year-old George Mukhwezi explained how he fled his home country of Uganda because he was gay.

“My life was in danger when people and the police realized I was gay,” said Mukhwezi, who arrived in Kenya last year. “I was attacked and assaulted [several times] by residents and even arrested by police. I decided to escape and save my life. Uganda is a dangerous country for LGBT people like me.”

Uganda is one of 36 African countries — and more than 70 around the world — where homosexuality is illegal. It’s a notoriously intolerant place for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, who face arrest, discrimination, eviction from their homes and violence from police and individuals. This persecution has spurred an exodus of LGBT refugees from the country in recent years. Many refugees have fled to Kenya, where homosexuality is also illegal, but enforcement of the law has been more sporadic than in Uganda.

“I need to feel safe like other people in other countries,” said Mukhwezi, who managed a restaurant in Kampala before he fled. “Kenya is also not safe for gays. I keep on hiding not to be arrested. I want to go to a country that will respect my rights.”

Uganda has been celebrated in recent years for its generosity toward those fleeing violence, especially South Sudanese refugees. Not long ago, only a few huts dotted the northern Ugandan town of Bidi Bidi. Today, more than 200,000 South Sudanese refugees live there, making it one of the largest refugee settlements in the world, according to United Nations officials. In total, Uganda has taken in around 900,000 South Sudanese refugees and thousands of others from neighboring countries.

While Uganda has worked to manage the refugee crisis on its border, a smaller one has simmered at home. Last year, the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued a report saying 500 Ugandans had applied for asylum in Kenya based on their sexuality. But LGBT activists say those estimates were too low because most refugees were categorized as having fled or claimed asylum for different reasons.

It’s no secret why gay Ugandans might seek refuge elsewhere. Ugandan police violently break up gay pride rallies and vigilantes regularly harass and attack people, sometimes fatally. In August, Ugandan police shut down Kampala’s gay pride parade, arresting and beating marchers. Authorities claimed the gathering was unlawful. Organizers said they sought but did not receive permission for the event. Other events are slated for August this year.    Read more via USA Today