Is South Africa Increasingly Refusing Gay Asylum Seekers?
A gay, albino Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) refugee has been refused asylum in South Africa in what advocates say is an increasing pattern of refusals for LGBT asylum seekers.
Charles Ngoy was refused asylum, in part, because Congo does not have a sodomy law due to its legacy as a Belgian and not British colony (although one has been proposed, reportedly directly inspired by the infamous Ugandan ‘kill the gays’ bill).
However, gay people in Congo suffer as in most of the rest of Africa from discrimination, rejection and harassment.
Albino people face discrimination and marginalization in their communities, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
“They have trouble getting work, in accessing adequate health care, in finding marriage partners and in entering education,” UNDP said.
“Albino children do not feel loved by their parents, brothers and sisters. Albino women are subject to discrimination from other women. Women who give birth to albino babies are often mocked or rejected.”
A report in June by the Research Directorate of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRBC) said that, in general, society favors criminalizing “acts against nature.” Homosexuality is taboo in the DRC. There are no public places for homosexuals in the capital city of Kinshasa. It reported that:
“Discrimination against LGBTI individuals is widespread, and they are often rejected by their communities” and are subjected to threats, retaliation, insults and social exclusion.
Charles told the South African eNews Channel:
“In DRC I have never been arrested for my sexual orientation but I’ve been discriminated against by Congolese people, by friends by family. Because of that, it is not an easy life. Also I’m facing double persecution because I’m an albino… in Congo, if you are albino, and you are not protected by your family it’s very difficult because not everyone in Congo likes albinos.”
David Von Durgsdorff of Refugee Rights advocacy group Passop said:
The case of Charles is not the exception, it’s the norm. We’re seeing more and more cases like this.
We are very worried about these developments. It makes it clear that the Department of Home Affairs is compromising the refugee status determination process and turning it into an accelerated refugee rejection process.
Homosexual asylum-seekers from many parts of Africa who have legitimate claims for asylum are being rejected left, right and center. The current system is failing and needs to be improved urgently.
The case of Charles represents a particularly blatant failure, because he faces a double persecution in Congo, being both albino and gay. We have helped him appeal the decision and will continue to follow this and other such cases closely.
Charles grew up and spent most of his life living in the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa. His parents divorced when he was less than a year old. The main reason for the divorce was because his father’s mother had a problem with the color of his skin – he was albino.
Growing up, he did not have a family experience. He lived with his father most of the time during school, but did not feel loved by him. His father’s new wife did not accept him as part of the family and treated him horribly.
When Charles was nine, he started developing gay feelings. These feelings grew stronger and during his teenage years he felt more and more drawn to intimacy with men. However, he was very careful to keep this secret, because he knew very well that in Congolese tradition being gay was unacceptable. For this reason, he tried to suppress his sexual orientation, but it became too strong. When he was 18, he started having some small first relationships and boyfriends.
Despite these first few experiences, he was living in the shadows. He couldn’t share his secret with anyone. He was already constantly persecuted, vulnerable and afraid because he was an albino, and was trying hard to be accepted not just by society, but also by his family. Because of this fear of being further marginalized and persecuted, he hid his homosexuality.
Hiding his homosexuality meant that he was constantly aware of how he walked, talked or what he did, and tried to suppress his natural character because of fear of being discovered.
“You can get beaten and out casted by society if it is discovered that you are gay,” he says.
He had little choice but to keep his sexuality a secret. Nobody in his family knows he is gay, to this day.
Although he had a boyfriend and a job as a school administrator, he didn’t have peace or safety in his life. Realizing that he would never be able to find peace in Congo, and hence could never be happy, he decided that leaving was the only way he could be happy.
He arrived in South Africa two weeks ago. It has been a tough two weeks for him. He applied for refugee status, but was rejected by a Department of Home Affairs official.
His first impressions are that people here also judge him for being albino, and he has sensed a similar homophobia. But at least there is safety and the necessary structures and laws exist that enable gays to live openly and not have to walk through life hiding their true identity.
Ngoy says he will appeal the decision.
Photo courtesy Passop