‘We are tired of living like prisoners’: LGBT+ asylum seekers stranded in Niger

·6-min read
© Observers

After being stranded in Niger for almost two years, a group of LGBT+ asylum seekers in Niamey is growing ever more desperate in their hopes for resettlement. While navigating a country marked by intolerance towards LGBT people, they feel propelled to take more active action and demand the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Niamey take them under their direct mandate for relocation.

A group of LGBT+ asylum seekers gathered in front of the office of the UNHCR in Niamey, Niger on August 22. In the crowd of 25 people, there were nationals from several African countries, including Mali, Ethiopia, and Ivory Coast, while Cameronians were the majority.

The group have not yet received official refugee status from the government in Niger. As they were not formally registered with UNHCR, they were blocked from entering the office.

Since August 25, the Observers team has been exchanging with Pierre (not his real name), the leader of the LGBT+ refugee group. He asked to remain anonymous for security reasons due to the hostility towards sexual minorities in the country.

The rally on August 22 was to make certain claims to the UNHCR in Niamey, namely the right to asylum and the same rights as everyone else.

We wish to be treated equally as heterosexuals and hold the UNHCR in Niger accountable for our relocation.

The UNHCR normally assists displaced persons in carrying out resettlement procedures and sending them to a country of destination, once displaced persons have been recognised by the local authorities and given an official refugee status.

However, when a host country's government refuses to register a certain group of people as refugees, the UNHCR often proceeds with their registration on its own, according to its website.

Pierre continued:

In my opinion, since we are not accepted in Africa, and specifically in Niger, the UNHCR has the duty to take us under its direct mandate and help us initiate the resettlement program in order to get us out of Niger.

This way, we can be sent to a country where homosexuality is legal, so that we can regain our lives that have been snatched away and finally live in peace and total security.

Many of these asylum seekers arrived in Niger two years ago, hoping to be relocated to somewhere relatively more friendly to the LGBT+ community.

However, homophobia is prominent in Niger, and the question remains whether they can eventually gain refugee status from the National Commission for Refugee Eligibility in Niger (CNE), the authority responsible for refugee certificates.

As a refugee, it is hard to sustain a life in Niger.

Some people in our group eventually decided to go back home, even though they might be put into prison there.

‘These individuals have been under the care of UNHCR since their arrival in Niger’

The FRANCE 24 Observers team also spoke with Gloria Ramazani, the associate external relations officer for UNHCR in Niamey.

She explained to us why they are not authorised to resettle these refugees now:

Resettlement presumes that the refugees who are selected later on by resettlement countries already have official refugee status. It is not a right but a solution that only applies to those who have been recognised as refugees under very specific circumstances, with priority given to those who are considered the most vulnerable or those in greatest need of protection.

The LGBTIQ+ individuals who gathered in front of the UNHCR Representation on August 22 have not yet been formally recognised as refugees by the Niger authorities. Thus, they are not yet eligible for resettlement.

Additionally, UNHCR has been advocating with the government on the protection risks faced by LGBTIQ+ asylum seekers and refugees in Niger. UNHCR is proposing appropriate protection measures and identifying durable solutions.

These people have been under the care of UNHCR since their arrival in Niger in conjunction with their expressed desire to file asylum claims.

They receive protection services from the UNHCR like any other person under the organisation's mandate.

‘In Niamey, LGBT+ people do not have a life’

Pierre told us about life as an LGBT+ asylum seeker in Niger:

We are tired of living like prisoners, and we are suffering.

The Nigerien government does not accept us in their country, as they think our sexualities contaminate their society.

In Niamey, LGBT+ people do not have a life, since the country is very homophobic. We live here in total fear because we are insulted everywhere in the country. Even the shopkeeper at the store where we go to buy food refuses to serve us just because he learned that we are gay.

We are not doing well, and we tremble in fear every day. For instance, just this morning, I was attacked by a Nigerien while I was going to the store to buy some bread.

The UNHCR in Niger is well-aware of our situation, but they choose to stay calm, saying and doing nothing, while we are living in an ordeal.

It is difficult to live here, as the UNHCR gives each of us only 43,000 Franc CFA [approximately 65 euro] at the end of the month, while the daily expenses here are very expensive.

Additionally, even the civil servants who work for the UNHCR, who are Nigerien, show their homophobia in front of us.

For instance, even in front of the personnel of the UNHCR, the roommates with whom we lived in the provided lodgings spit on us and verbally attacked us with hate speech the whole time.

‘Why is there so much suffering for LGBT+ in Africa?’

According to UNHCR, there are alternatives to improve the lives of LGBT+ individuals:

These LGBT+ refugees are eligible for humanitarian visas set up by states that are often used to admit people in need of international protection to a third country.

By doing so, they will then be able to have the opportunity to formally apply for asylum."

On the other hand, Pierre and his cohort are still left in despair while waiting for things to change.

Every day, I think of my mother, who saved me from being buried alive by my own relatives after my relationship with another man was caught. I have never seen my mother or heard her voice since I escaped from Cameropn.

Here we often have mourning gatherings where we all tell our stories to each other, and we cry until the morning.

Why is there so much suffering for LGBT+ in Africa?

I would like to go to the United States because I have always loved the English language.

But since I don't have the right to choose, I guess I'll just go wherever they send me.