Gay and transgender people in Cameroon face alarming persecution due to discriminatory laws and social oppression. These oppressive conditions have forced many people to flee their home country in search of safety and protection.
This wave of Cameroonian refugees and asylum seekers has spread around the world, and South Africa has become one of the main host countries.
Persecution of homosexual and transgender people in Cameroon
In Cameroon, article 347-1 of the penal code criminalises homosexual relations, condemning queer people to up to five years in prison. This oppressive law is used to target, harass and persecute LGBTIQ+ people, creating a climate of fear and oppression.
The victims of these persecutions are often subjected to arbitrary arrests, physical and psychological violence, social discrimination and exclusion from their families and society in general. This untenable situation has pushed many LGBTIQ+ Cameroonians to seek refuge and asylum in other countries.
Cameroonian transgender social media celebrity, Shakiro, has been repeatedly arrested and assaulted in prison. In 2021 she was beaten by a mob.
The wave of Cameroonian refugees and South Africa
Among the host countries for Cameroonian refugees, South Africa has become a haven for many LGBTIQ+ people. The country is recognised for its progressive constitution which guarantees equal rights and protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This makes it an attractive destination for those seeking to escape persecution and find a more inclusive environment.
However, even as a land of refuge, Cameroonian refugees in South Africa continue to face significant challenges.
Integration issues, language barriers, unemployment and stigma persist, often leading to further marginalisation and vulnerability. LGBTIQ+ refugees and asylum seekers face additional barriers due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, which can make it harder for them to access the support services and protection they need.
Raising awareness and supporting Cameroonian LGBTIQ+ refugees in South Africa
It is essential to raise awareness of the reality of the persecution of LGBTIQ+ people in Cameroon and the challenges faced by Cameroonian refugees in South Africa. Awareness-raising efforts, such as media campaigns, art exhibitions and community events, are needed to raise awareness of these issues and promote empathy and solidarity towards refugees.
It is equally important to provide concrete support to Cameroonian LGBTIQ+ refugees in South Africa. This includes access to psychosocial support, health, housing, education and employment services. Partnerships between local organisations, NGOs and government institutions can help provide these essential services and facilitate the integration of refugees into South African society.
It is crucial to raise awareness of the persecution of gay and transgender people in Cameroon and to support Cameroonian LGBTIQ+ refugees in South Africa and to enable them to rebuild their lives in an environment that is inclusive and respectful of their fundamental rights. A collective effort of awareness, advocacy and action is needed to end this persecution and to promote a more just and equal society for all, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Henry Wackam is the Founder and Director of the Rainbow Refuge Africa.