Refugee Week: An Opinion Piece

Publish Date: 18/06/2013

Prossy Kakooza, volunteer at The Lesbian Immigration Support Group (LISG), speaks exclusively to The LGF about the work of LISG and what it means to be an LGB or T refugee.

For many of us, Refugee Week is a celebration of the journeys we have taken, and celebrating the lives we have now. 

When people think about refugees or asylum seekers, some feel pity while others feel animosity because of the ‘strain to the economy due to immigration’. Both are wrong.

Yes many refugees have been through a lot to be here today. They are survivors who walk the streets with deep internal wounds, but with a smile on their faces. In cases of domestic violence in this country, it’s rightly said it takes a strong person to walk away. It’s the same for asylum seekers and refugees who walk away from all they know to seek refugee elsewhere for their safety. But don’t pity them. Just try to empathise and understand. Try putting yourself in their shoes, what would you do?

The women of Lesbian Immigration Support Group come from countries where it’s illegal to be LGB&T. Imagine a life where you had no chance of ever being yourself. Many go through sexual violence as many believe they’re lesbians ‘because they haven’t met a real man’.

One of the ladies from Uganda said ‘Coming out was not an option. Staying hidden and praying nobody ever found out was the only choice’.

Another one from Nigeria said ‘I was living in fear all the time. I knew I just had to get away or risk being killed by either my family of the authorities.’

But when people get here they feel born again. Like their lives are just at the beginning. The things some people might take for granted, like being able to hold your partners hand in public or taking them for a meal are all new to people who seek asylum on the basis of their sexuality.

‘I could not believe people go to clubs and kiss their girlfriends with everybody looking, and nobody even cared!’ one said. Many feel liberated for the first time in their lives.

So this refugee week we are going to concentrate on celebrating our freedom. We are the lucky ones. Many are suffering in the countries where it’s illegal to be themselves. We are the lucky ones who have had a taste of what it’s like to be who you were meant to be without being persecuted for it.

You might not visibly see it, mostly because the press sometimes chooses to concentrate on the dire and not the positive side, but refugees enrich communities with a lot. If not in monetary terms, then in the way it enriches the society with different cultures and traditions.

We know it’s not easy getting the refugee status to stay here, but at least we are given a chance. So we want to thank Britain for offering protection to many people who have had to flee persecution in their home countries.

And to thank those British people who continue to embrace us and celebrate our differences. Here’s to hoping we can continue to learn from each other and embrace each other’s differences, traditions, cultures and orientations with respect. Happy Refugee week. 

Lesbian Immigration Support Group is a Manchester based support group that helps women who seek asylum on the basis of their sexuality. We offer practical support and assistance to members with current asylum applications to ensure they are treated equally and with dignity during the asylum process.; @lisg_manchester

  • Philip

    Exactly right, Prossy. And you are still one of the most inspiring people I know.