On Thursday, as Executive Director of African Human Rights Coalition (AHRC), I received an urgent message of distress from a group of refugee/ asylum seekers in Tanzania who noted that they were about to be "deported" back to their home country, Uganda. They feared that upon their return they would face accusations of being "criminally" gay. It is against the Convention for Refugees for a Government such as Tanzania to fail to protect refugees and to unlawfully detain them, for the purposes of refoulment. The group being detained were being interrogated by Tanzanian authorities and were in extreme fear for their safety. Communication was eventually cut off and I stopped hearing from them, after receiving videos and pictures. AHRC received copies of documentation from the asylum seekers proving that they were registered by UNHCR as asylum seekers. UNHCR was contacted and went into swift action to try and intervene, and have now at 2.15 am California time issued this press release:
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is deeply concerned by a series of messages of distress it has been receiving from a group of 10 asylum–seekers currently in a detention facility in Mutukula, in northwestern Tanzania. The asylum-seekers have expressed fears for their safety upon being deported from Tanzania. UNHCR consistently advocates that refugees and asylum-seekers, including those who claim to be in need of international protection, cannot be returned to their countries of origin until their claims have been properly assessed by the competent authorities, in accordance with the principle of non-refoulement. Non-refoulement is an international principle that prevents states from expelling or returning persons to a territory where their life or freedom would be threatened. UNHCR is appealing to the Government of Tanzania for immediate access to the detained asylum-seekers in order to assist with the assessments of their individual claims. UNHCR is hopeful that the responsible authorities in Tanzania will work with us to resolve this situation in accordance with their obligations under international law. Melanie Nathan: This is another case of Tanzanian Government treating suspected LGBTQI persons in persecutory fashion. We at African Human Rights Coalition share the concerns of UNHCR in calling upon the Tanzanian Government to allow immediate access to the asylum seekers. We also call upon the United States Government, South African, Canadian, EU and UK Governments to intervene and thereby promote the human rights of all asylum seekers, including LGBTI refugees/ asylum seekers and those perceived as such, insisting upon all claims receiving due process and all displaced persons being treated with dignity. Over 30 Countries in Africa and over 70 Worldwide still harbor /enforce the old Colonial Penal Codes and in some countries additional harsh anti-homosexuality laws, as promoted by Western Christian Evangelicals, to punish sexuality and gender identity through criminalization, including lengthy prison sentences, and in some cases even death penalties.
The latest USA State Department Travel Advisory to Tanzania notes: Do not travel to Tanzania due to COVID-19. Exercise increased caution in Tanzania due to crime, terrorism, and targeting of LGBTI persons.
Contact: Melanie Nathan - firstname.lastname@example.org