Give Kenyan LGBTQ activist George Barasa asylum in South Africa
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Well known Kenyan LGBTQ+ activist George Barasa has been denied asylum by South Africa because officials don't believe that he is gay. He has also faced homophobic abuse and discrimination from Home Affairs officials.
The South African government must give George refuge from arrest and death threats in his homeland. Home Affairs must also start treating LGBTQ asylum seekers with dignity, respect and humanity as required by the law and the Constitution.
George was one of the first people to come out on national television in Kenya as both gay and HIV positive.
In 2016, he and his band Art Attack sparked international attention when they released Kenya’s 'first gay music video', called "Same Love", a reworking of the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ track.
Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya under the country’s colonial-era penal code which penalises same-sex sexuality with five to 14 years in prison. The clip was banned by the Kenyan government for non-existent “obscenity [and] explicit scenes of sexual activities" and for "promoting" homosexuality. A warrant for George's arrest was issued. Despite this, the video has been seen more than 327,000 times.
In 2017, George had enough and left his homeland for South Africa in the hope of finding safety from his ongoing persecution.
"I was afraid," he tells MambaOnline. "I feared my life. And I decided to leave Kenya because I could no longer provide myself with protection and because threats had become more imminent. I had become a threat to the government and their policies which seeks to penalise LGBT rights."
Under the Refugees Act, 1998, South Africa is obligated to provide asylum to a person who has "a well-founded fear of being persecuted by reason of his or her race, tribe, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group..."
To George's surprise, his application for asylum was rejected. The reason he was given for the rejection, "was that I'm fraudulently claiming to be an LGBT person." With George's track record as an LGBT rights defender, the department's decision seems absurd. "For them to reject my asylum on grounds of fraudulence really hit me so hard that I can't even comprehend."
George further alleges that he has experienced blatant homophobia and xenophobia from Home Affairs officials. "We are treated like criminals." Also, during one of his many visits to Home Affairs, Barasa was mugged while waiting in the long queues outside and his phone containing "crucial evidence" supporting his case was stolen.
George continues to wait for the outcome of his appeal, which has dragged on for months. During this period he must regularly renew a temporary permit to stay in the country. The permit is sometimes valid for three months, sometimes for far less. "Nobody wants to employ you," he says. To add to his challenges, George claims that his passport was taken by Home Affairs officials. This has left him "without an identity" and makes it almost impossible for him to open a bank account or rent accommodation.
"I call it an open prison," he says. "They give you a permit that means you can go anywhere in the country, but you can't do anything with it. You're practically a prisoner. How do they want us to survive?"
George now lives with the constant fear that he will be forced to return to Kenya. "I'm a very prominent person [in Kenya] and I can't go back to my country because if I am going to have to register why I left, and that's like turning myself in [to the authorities.]."
We call on the LGBTQ community and its allies in South Africa and internationally to sign this petition. Demand justice for George - and for all LGBTQ asylum seekers!
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