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Persecuted Gay African Refuses to Board Plane Home From U.K.

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Tuesday May 8, 2012
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Ediage Valerie Ekwedde claims he is gay and that his life is in danger if he is deported back to Cameroon -- an African country that has persecuted the LGBT community for years.

The BBC reported that Ekwedde, 26, refused to board a plane from London to Paris, which resulted in a temporary halt in his deportation process.

The man says he is concerned that he will be persecuted for his sexual orientation if he returns to the West African country. The BBC points out that the United Kingdom Border Agency found "no credible evidence" that Ekwedde is gay, however.

"We and the courts found that this individual is in no need of asylum," a U.K. Border Agency spokesperson said. "When someone is found not to have a right to be here, we expect them to leave voluntarily. If they fail to do so, we will seek to remove them.

"We have already changed our guidance to ensure that we do not remove individuals who have demonstrated a proven risk of persecution on grounds of sexual orientation. When someone needs our protection, they will be given it."

Air France said its 07:10 BST flight from London’s Heathrow Airport to Paris Charles de Gaulle was delayed due to "operational difficulty." Officials say that the 26-year-old told the pilot that said he would "make a fuss" because he believes his life is in danger. The pilot reportedly decided not to fly with Ekwedde out of consideration to other passengers.

Ekwedde came to the U.K. last November and claims that he left Cameroon because he had been persecuted based on his sexual orientation. He is currently being detained near Heathrow.

Members of Cameroon’s LGBT community do not have many rights and same-sex sexual activity is illegal. Those involved in gay sexual activities could face up to 5-years in prison and a hefty fine of 20,000 to 200,000 francs. Marriage equality is also not recognized in the African country.

’When someone is found not to have a right to be here, we expect them to leave voluntarily. If they fail to do so, we will seek to remove them.’

According to a report from November 2010, Cameroon was one of the worst anti-gay African nations, LezGetReal reported. The International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) published the report and its website said, "Beyond arrest, gay, lesbian, and bisexual Cameroonians are at higher risk for other problems. Police and prison officers routinely abuse detainees they suspect of same-sex sexual relationships. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people may be more vulnerable to violent attacks inside and outside the home, as they often avoid reporting a crime for fear of being arrested, in turn, for homosexuality. Lesbian women can lose custody of their children and be ostracized by their families."

In a similar case to Ekwedde’s situation, soccer player Gaston Dissake fled from his home country of Cameroon and sought asylum in Seattle, Wash. After he came out to his family and soccer teammates, police arrested him six times.

"Each time I suffered severe beatings on the bottoms of my feet plus humiliation and insults in every possible manner," he said.

Gaston and his partner then went to Panama and Colombia in search of asylum. After being denied, he eventually moved to the U.S. and left his partner who decided to live in Mexico City.

"He was afraid to try to come to the U.S., but I am brave and so I came," he said.

The story of two African gay refugees mirrors Ekwedde’s and Dissake’s situation as well. In September 2008 the British news site Pink News reported that the U.K. government deported John Nyombi and Babakhan Badalov to Uganda -- an African country with no gay rights or protections.

The men’s lawyers said the U.K. broke its own laws and claims that Nyombi’s deportation was "an illegal act of the UK Border Agency." Advocates for Badalove said the agency changed their details against Badalova just before removing him from the country. His supporters also say that one Border Agency officer told Badalove, "You make me sick," and "you’re going back where you belong."

Badalove came to the U.K. in 2006 claiming that his sexual orientation and his criticism of his country’s government put his life in danger but in July 2008 he lost his case for asylum. In addition, Nyombi’s supporters say that since being deported to Uganda, he has been hiding from the country’s police.

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