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Features, Opinion

‘A death ticket’: Persecuted gay Ugandans seek refuge in Kenya

When Timothy Tuisenge was released from prison in 2018, he had to quickly figure out where his new home would be, because Ugandan society was not ready to accept him back.

The 28-year-old had been serving a three-year jail term after he was found guilty of marrying a person of the same sex, against the country’s laws.

Tuisenge, who has been gay since high school, was forced to seek refuge after he received death threats just days after being released from prison.

He quickly sought help from a gay association in Kenya, whose members who facilitated his escape from Uganda into Kenya, where he currently lives.

Just like Tuisenge, thousands of Ugandan gay community members are living as refugees in Kenya after running away from high levels of persecution in their East African home country.

Even though Kenyan law also outlaws homosexuality, the persecution there is not as rampant as in Uganda.

As long as they do not openly identify or behave in a manner likely to give away their sexuality, gay Ugandans are finding it safe in Kenya.

“Here in Kenya, we are not arrested and charged for being who we are, we are not harassed, and we feel safe,” said one anonymous member of the community.

Ugandan gay people in Kenya have formed an association that looks after the welfare of its members, including housing and medical care.

With help from Kenyan gay support groups and human rights lobby groups, the association has been helping Ugandan community members seek refuge and asylum in European countries that are more friendly and accepting.

Since 2010, the association has rescued 100 members from persecution and torture in Uganda and helped them find safe spaces in Kenya and Europe.

Currently, the association has 134 members living in Kenya.

“In Uganda, being gay is a death ticket,” said the association’s chairperson.

“They will arrest you, torture you, and kill you.

“Kenya offers us a safe space – albeit temporarily, because when authorities establish that we are here, they always deport us.”

The friendly, supportive, and welcoming nature of the Kenyan gay community is allowing their Ugandan siblings to live a life without intimidations and threats.

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