Uganda and its attitude towards refugees

9 August 2019

On first glance, Uganda is a shining example of a country doing its part to help some of the most vulnerable groups of people in the world. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, it has taken in over a million displaced people as of June 2019[1] (about ten times more than the UK[2]) providing not just asylum, but land as well, given to displaced families so they can start again, not just stew in camps as in so many Western countries. They have been praised by the likes of The New York Times, one headline proclaiming “As Rich Nations Close the Door on Refugees, Uganda Welcomes Them”. If only Uganda was equally empathetic to the refugees that they are themselves creating.

The persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals’ in Uganda accumulated in the passing of a bill in 2009 making homosexuality illegal, only emitting the death penalty after a close vote. Since then, both nationals and refugees have been persecuted, tortured, abused and murdered for their human right to self-expression. Many have fled following violence and threats, the media leading what can only be described as a witch-hunt against them, perpetuated by the police. Newspapers regularly publish articles provoking violence against specific LGBTQ+ individuals after police provide them with names and even photographs.  One such case is Maria W., a transgender asylum seeker, accused by police of coming to “destroy Ugandan culture” by converting youths to homosexuality. Convinced that she was “a part of a gay organisation” which has “lots of money and sleep(s) with whites” (quote from the police upon her arrest, according to Maria), the police ‘beat’ Maria and held her without trial until a friend raised enough funds to pay a bribe for her release. [3]

When an individual is displaced, the world has a responsibility to ensure that they retain their rights. These people should not become a passing trend on Western social media and then be forgotten, ignored by those who can truly make a difference. To make the world a safer place for everyone and protect the integrity of the international declaration of human rights, the international community needs to do more than condemn this treatment of refugees forced from war into persecution, running from one nightmare into the next. They need to tackle the issue by ensuring that asylum seekers can escape conflict for good, and reach nations where they will no longer be persecuted.

After the successful prosecution of Bosco Ntaganda (whose life of violence started in Uganda in the 1990s when he joined the Rwandan Patriotic Front at the tender age of 17[4]), now is the time for the UN to take definitive action against the violent persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals in Uganda. As for the UK, we need to stop the deportation of LGBTQ+ individuals back to their home nations ruled by governments that seek to harm them. Such as the asylum seeker known as ‘PN’ who was deported to Uganda despite officials knowing that she would face persecution because of her sexual orientation.[5] Instead of ignoring and thereby fuelling the problem, we need to start to accept more refugees, thereby showing the world that the UK is not complicit in the face of injustice. The UK needs to take a stand for all those persecuted for being who they are, whether that be race, creed, nationality or sexual orientation.


[1] Uganda Refugee Response: 2019 Q1 Performance Snapshot and Operational Presence, Refugee Situations, 20th May 2019

[2] Refugee Action, 2017

[3] , Human Rights Watch, 14th May 2014

[4] The Guardian, Vara Tampa, 8th July 2019

[5] The Guardian,  4th July 2019

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