The African Human Rights Coalition is pleased to welcome a new refugee to the Bay Area, California, U.S.A.
Caroline is a 22 year old Ugandan who fled Uganda after horrific persecution and discrimination due to the hostility experienced by lesbians in Uganda and further exacerbated by the now defunct Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2014. She has been resettled in Berkeley, California.
After assisting Caroline for almost a year, I was pleased to finally greet her at San Francisco International Airport, last week, where she arrived exhausted after her arduous journey to safety.
Caroline's terrifying story and what it took for such a young person to make it to the point of resettlement abroad is a testament to her extraordinary courage and resilience. She is an exceptionally gracious person, whose leadership, consciousness and deep caring for her community, belie her youth.
Today, while we were being filmed for a PBS documentary about asylum seekers and refugees in San Francisco, Caroline noted that she felt she had a duty to impart critical awareness about the plight of LGBT people in African countries as well as the difficulties her fellow Ugandan lesbians, gays and transgender refugees are facing in Kenya at this time.
It has become increasingly difficult for Ugandan LGBT people to survive as urban refugees in Kenya, due to numerous factors, including the fact that HIAS has altered its protocol with regard to providing monthly stipends which refugees have been using for safe-shelter and food. We are receiving reports that many are being evicted and turned out on the streets by landlords as support has not come in this month.
It is almost impossible for the refugees to self support in Kenya, where foreigners from Uganda who do not speak Swahili are rejected and not treated well and where the anti-gay climate is becoming much worse. UNHCR is unable to provide urban resources and the camps are far too dangerous for gays, lesbians and trans refugees.
While celebrating Caroline's homecoming to San Francisco's Bay Area, yesterday, we were trying to assist several Ugandans in Kenya with emergency assistance. But the outlook is bleak as funding for humanitarian assistance is not coming in at this time - perhaps a ripple efect from the Nepal Earthquake.
In the meantime we are extremely grateful and thank all those who have stepped forward as volunteers here in the Bay Area to help Caroline settle in, including her current hosts who have offered her a home for several weeks.
The outpouring of love and care has been tremendous. However we cannot forget that she has a long road ahead. More orientation, job counseling and a need to find a few more months of host housing while she builds her life.
It is no easy task to resettle a refugee in the U.S.A. and many agencies and organizations have been and continue to be involved along the way including UNHCR, African Human Rights Coalition, (African HRC) , Jewish Family and Children's Services of The East Bay (JFCS- East Bay), HIAS and IOM.
Today, despite our sadness for those who seem stuck in Kenya without resources, we ensured Caroline's first outing and introdcution to the transport system in the City was fun.
We took a ferry ride from Larkspur, Marin County into the City, and then an outing in the Castro, where we talked about the history of LGBTI America. While being filmed walking toward the Harvey Milk camera store, a woman asked what we were filming. As it turned out she was a friend of the late Harvey Milk and so we really had a first hand account of the Briggs initiative and bygone days. We also met up with other members of our local LGBT community who had much to share with Caroline.
Caroline expressed her gratitude at being here, and told us thats she has been made to feel most welcome. Her biggest concern is for those refugees struggling to survive in Kenya who may be many months away from resettlement without any support:
Here are just 2 of the many messages which African HRC received just today from Ugandan refugees in Kenya:
Lesbian Refugee: "Greetings madam nathan I dnt know how am going to get thruogh all this now HIAS is refusing to help out , how am I going to get thru,the landlord wants his money I had to use ma clothes as sanitary towels for this month,I dnt know if anyone can understand what am going through right now,should I give up though I fear death but I dnt see any way out madam nathan this is not ok at all,please help me."
Gay Refugee: "I just dont know mum,am just stranded,i sleep empty stomach.alot of threats in the community i feel i hate my self now."
How you can help:
Please consider volunteering your time. What we need is host housing, meals, transport, outings, friendship, in Bay Area please contact Melanie Nathan at nathan@africanHRC.org
If you can make a cash donation direct for refugees - not tax deductible: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/lgbti-refugee-relief-fund-6--2
To make a tax deductible donation to African HRC which is tax deductible: DONATE HERE.
Pictures Copyright African HRC 2015.
Caroline in the Castro and Caroline arriving on the ferry from larkspur to San Francisco.