A plea for LGBTQ+ lives to mark World Refugee Day

LGBTQ asylum seeker Anold Mulaisho

Saturday 20 June was World Refugee Day which is dedicated to raising awareness about the plight of refugees throughout the world. South Africa has a large number of LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers who have escaped persecution in their homeland but continue to face despair and discrimination.

Anold Mulaisho, who fled from Zambia in 2017, is one such individual who’s struggled to find legal and social recognition in South Africa. He’s been robbed, abused and denied asylum status by officials who refused to accept that he is gay. Here he writes about his hope for those who find themselves in a similar scenario.

Martin Luther King Jr said: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

Over the last four months, our lives have been shaken up, not just by the Covid-19 virus but also by the social and economic crisis it triggered. For LGBTQ+ refugees, this crisis only worsened our existing challenges, such as the struggle to find safe housing, secure an income and access social services. 

Many of us are also dealing with physical and mental health issues based on the persecution we experienced in our countries of origin, and which we continue to experience here in South Africa. 

This persecution happens because of our gender, sexuality, race, nationality and documentation status. These last few months have reminded us that diversity matters and that the intersections of our identities shape our everyday realities.

I want to focus on a part of my identity that gets dismissed. It is my dream that we can break the silence on migration and remember that migrant, refugee and asylum seeker lives matter. We are people who have been discriminated against, vilified and disowned by our families and countries, yet our lives are not considered worthy of protection by those who host us.

We have become non-entities, denied the chance to live with dignity, build a home or dream of the future. As citizens of nowhere, we are treated with contempt and violence. 

We must also remember gender and sexuality when we fight for black lives. Otherwise, people like me will be left behind. The LGBTQ+ refugee community is strong, but we need the support of society. We need allies to join us in demanding change, both in our countries of origin and here in South Africa. 

Our lives matter, and it is important that our experiences and identities are validated. Right now we are struggling to breathe. We live in a no man’s land, stalked by hunger and fear. Some of us are reduced to wearing rags and begging for help.

Yet we continue to dream of a better tomorrow. This inspires us to stay fearless as we confront the challenging realities of today. My hope is that we can create a connected, welcoming and compassionate world, one in which all of us can live freely.

To mark World Refugee Day this year, I commit to fighting for my rights, for the rights of my fellow LGBTQ+ refugees, and the rights of all LGBTQ+ people and refugees. Our lives matter!

Let us come together as black and queer people and protect each other, care for each other and love each other.

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