Hailu is also acknowledged as the first person to have publicly spoken about being gay in Ethiopia. He was, however, disowned by his family after coming out, and was forced to flee his country.
He sought refuge in South Africa, where he lived for a number of years and studied for his Masters in IT. He is now in the US and hoping to be granted asylum there.
To mark World Refugee Day on Wednesday, Hailu appeared in a powerful video for the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation, the educational arm of America’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organisation.
In the clip, an emotional Hailu explains that it is illegal in his country to be LGBTIQ and those found ‘guilty’ face between 7 to 15 years in prison.
“I’m scared to go back to the way of Ethiopian living. Seeking asylum is looking to live in a country that actually accepts us. That’s why we are here. You never get a chance, or see in the media, actually, what Ethiopian LGBTI members are facing because our government is holding everything underground,” he says in the video.
“I would like to say for people living in America or other countries, who they have rights – always they need to remember, they have brothers and sisters out there, actually, they are looking for someone to help them, to listen to them, to fight with them.”
Former Mr Gay World Africa Director, Coenie Kukkuk, recently submitted an affidavit to immigration lawyers in the US to support Hailu’s case for asylum.
“Robel will probably never see his home country and family again,” Kukkuk told Mambaonline. “He refused to continue living a lie, he wanted to come out and refute his president’s declaration that there are no LGBT people in Ethiopia.”
“He used the Mr. Gay World 2012 competition in Johannesburg, due to the media attention the competition attracts, to show his fellow gay countrymen that there are in fact out and proud Ethiopians and that there is hope – and to start a national debate on gay rights in his home country which was totally absent before. In this, he succeeded, albeit at a terrible price.”
Kukkuk added: “We hope that this brave man’s asylum application in the USA is successful and wish him all the best for the future.”