Under The Gambian law Homosexual acts are punishable by up to 14 years to include men and woman. However now the law has bee amended to include so called “aggravated homosexuality” with terms up to life imprisonment. This has caused an upsurge in gays trying to leave The Gambia with nowhere to go.
Bordering Senegal is not that friendly to gays either and the run is very risky. UNHCR does not have a camp in the area, though it is taking interviews and providing mandates, the refugees that make it there must survive with little to no money, on their own.
One of the young men in Senegal informed me that he had already been sent by UNHCR for an interview with the local police in Dakar:
“The inspector told me to be very very careful here for my security. He said here could be more dangerous…”
The United States of America and other Western Countries have done nothing in The Gambia as in many parts of Africa to provide special pathways of relief for LGBT people caught up in the anti-gay penal systems, even as the laws and vigilante milieu becomes worse. The international laws pertaining to refugees and U.S. and Western asylum laws do not help people to escape their situations.
Unlike Uganda, the LGBT community from The Gambia has failed to render local visible leadership or organizations that can effectively provide or draw attention to the much needed help.
In short the situation for gay people in The Gambia is critical and dire. Though numbers are uncertain – the chatter is increasing and my hope is that LGBT Americans will come forward and offer help through heightened advocacy for better escape routes and humanitarian assistance.
To date I have seen no work by Western LGBT organizations to help LGBT people from The Gambia. It will not be useful for the likes of Human Rights Campaign or Westerners to talk “equality” in these circumstances or to even demand “change.” This will only buy into the narrative of “Western values vs African culture”. The only work or effort of any value at this time will in my estimation involve direct and immediate assistance to LGBT people needing to leave the Gambia. Safe shelter in The Gambia, even with financing, is very difficult to accomplish because of the dangerous rhetoric of The Gambian President, where he has referred to gays as “vermin.” The current need for humanitarian assistance includes financial support for transport and money to survive in safe shelter, with adequate food and medicine in other countries, as an interim measure.
Through my communications I bear witness to the terror felt by gays in The Gambia and the stories, some to featured here soon, are fraught with abandonment, threats, violence and abject desperation.
The New Legislation:
The new bill awaits approval by president Yahya Jammeh, an despot who for years has threatened the LGBT community, asking them to leave The Gambia or risk being beheaded.
Speaking on state television in February, Jammeh said, “We will fight these vermins called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes, if not more aggressively.”
Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup and is famous for speeches condemning Western powers, has not addressed the new bill publicly.
National Assembly speaker Abdoulie Bojang confirmed the new bill was passed last month but would not provide further details.
A draft seen by the Associated Press contains language identical to a controversial anti-gay bill signed into law in Uganda earlier this year.
In addition to “serial offenders” and people living with HIV/Aids, both pieces of legislation say examples of “aggravated homosexuality” include when the suspect engages in homosexual acts with someone who is under 18, disabled or has been drugged. The term also applies when the suspect is the parent or guardian of the other person or is “in authority over” him or her.
I have been in direct contact with four gay men who have fled The Gambia, at great risk. Two are in Dakar, Senegal, at the moment, struggling to survive. One has reported his arrivale to UNHCR and another undertook an incredible journey, finally reaching Libya with a risky boat ride to Italy where he is currently seeking asylum.
The Gambia has cracked down on gays before, using torture and forced confessions.
I am currently providing financial support to 2 gay men from The Gambia, with applications for help from 2 more men. The young man in Italy is in urgent need of clothing and friendship.