Emigrating out of hiding

Rusly Cachina: ‘We can do a lot of work to raise social awareness, but if the institutions do not allow us to exist, it is very difficult to make progress’ | Èlia Pons

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STANDARD

Emigrating out of hiding

Written by Elia Pons

LGBTQI+ people in Africa are forced to leave their countries because of homophobia and social rejection

More than 108 million people live outside their country, according to the UN Refugee Agency. They flee conflict, dictatorships, and persecution in their home countries because of who they are. LGBTQ+ people leave their homes because they want a better life away from violence and criminalisation.

Before I came to Spain, I buried six trans women in my country. his is Rusly Cachina’s story. She is a trans woman from Equatorial Guinea who has been living in Barcelona for over a year. She left her country, Malabo, because she was persecuted for her trans activism. My migration was forced. I didn’t want to leave my country, but I was forced to. Equatorial Guinea did not guarantee me a dignified life,’ she explains.

In 2016, she and others started the NGO Somos Parte del Mundo (We Are Part of the World) to fight for LGTBIQ+ rights in Equatorial Guinea. They spoke out about the abuse and persecution they faced in the country. Then they started getting threats. ‘I had to hide from the authorities because of my activism. They knew where I lived. They didn’t like me being outspoken. My family started to suffer because of me, so I came to Spain.

Being LGTBIQ+ in Equatorial Guinea and many other African countries is dangerous. Homosexual, bisexual, trans and intersex people are persecuted. In Equatorial Guinea, we are abused, tortured, and imprisoned for being who we are. Just going out on the street can be dangerous because we are targets for harassment, abuse, and rape, and even murder,’ says Rusly.

In 2020, We Are Part of the World published a report about the human rights violations suffered by the group in the country. serious injury. The document includes testimonies and evidence of the arrests of four young men accused of being gay, and numerous other cases of physical assault and serious injury.

“Mine is a forced migration. I didn’t want to leave my country, but Equatorial Guinea did not guarantee me a good life”

Imprisonment or death for being who they are

Many African countries have laws against homosexuality. This is shown by laws that punish homosexuality and transsexuality. LGBTQ+ people are at risk. ‘These acts of violence and persecution are not reported because they are carried out by the authorities themselves, and they enjoy total impunity,’ says Adrián Vives, advocacy coordinator of the Catalan Commission for Refugee Aid (CCAR).

The latest report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) says that 64 UN member states criminalise same-sex relationships. In some countries, homosexuality is punishable by death. This is the case in Mauritania, Somalia, and Nigeria. In other countries, such as Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania or Zambia, life imprisonment is used. In Africa, only South Africa allows same-sex marriage and has anti-discrimination laws.

There are no laws against homosexuality or transsexuality in Equatorial Guinea. However, LGTBIQ+ people, especially transgender people, are badly treated by the authorities. Human rights violations are normal. Trans people are treated like criminals. We always carry money in case we must bribe the police to avoid being arrested. “We need to know which areas of the city we can go to and at what time we can go out,” Rusly says.

Family rejection and conversion therapies

Although it was not an easy road, Rusly’s family eventually accepted his trans status. My family had a hard time, but in the end, they accepted who I was. They told me that at home I could be whoever I wanted to be, but outside, on the street, I had to be a boy to protect my life,’ she explains.

In many cases, family and social rejection leads LGTBIQ+ people to undergo conversion therapy. This is a very common practice in countries such as Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, and has been condemned by the United Nations. With the aim of correcting what is considered to be a deviation or an illness, families send their sons and daughters to churches or quakeries, where they are subjected to all kinds of violence, especially sexual and physical, so that, according to Rusly, ‘the spirit that possesses them will leave their body’. Other practices include the use of drugs that cause severe hallucinations and a high death rate.

Families also often resort to forced parenthood as a form of ‘compensation’. “They make us have children to make up for the disappointment we caused them. That’s why they arrange marriages for us at the age of 14, because they think we will end the family line,’ says Rusly.

This abandonment by families and institutions means that many people, sometimes minors, end up being homeless in situations of severe social exclusion. It is at this point, when the person is in a situation of great vulnerability, that trafficking networks come into play. Through deception and taking advantage of the complete lack of family and social support, many LGTBIQ+ people are recruited by trafficking networks to be forced into prostitution or labour exploitation,” says Adrián Vives.

Discrimination persists in the host country

Faced with violence of all kinds in their home countries, many LGTBIQ+ people have no choice but to seek protection elsewhere. International law states that anyone fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sexual characteristics can be considered a refugee and therefore have the right to seek asylum in another country. In practice, however, it is not that simple. I’ve been living in Barcelona for over a year now and I still haven’t managed to complete the asylum process. The system is tortuous and slow, and that does not help you organise your life,’ says Rusly, who has had to work illegally in the meantime to support herself.

The CCAR also denounces these obstacles in the international asylum application process. In asylum interviews, it is often said that the person’s story is not credible. It is assumed that the person does not belong to the collective and is deceiving the authorities in order to obtain international protection. That is why they are asked to prove their sexual orientation or gender identity, which is very difficult to do,’ says Vives.

According to the CCAR advocacy coordinator, there are many difficulties in obtaining asylum if there is no legal discrimination or persecution against the LGTBIQ+ group in the country of origin, even though there may be strong social discrimination.

“Here I am a trans, migrant and black girl and that has put a lot of barriers in my way”

As well as the administrative difficulties of the asylum process, people can also face stigma and discrimination in host countries. Here I am a trans, migrant and black girl, and that has put a lot of barriers in my way,” says Rusly. Barriers, she says, even at work. The integration of trans people into the labour market is very complicated. There is no demand for us in the labour market and we can only find precarious part-time jobs. We are only wanted in kitchens, hairdressing salons or prostitution,’ she says.

Achieving the dream life in the host country is a difficult task. Expectations are often unfulfilled, and being away from family and friends doesn’t help: ‘I exist here, but I don’t have a life. Many people think that the security we have here is everything. It’s true that we have security and rights that we didn’t have before, but we are also discriminated against,” says Rusly, “and on top of that, I feel like I’m missing out on a lot: my parents’ old age, my nephew, my twin brother…” she adds.

Rusly would like to return to Equatorial Guinea in a few years’ time, if the situation allows. We can do a lot of social awareness work, but if the institutions do not allow us to exist, it is very difficult to move forward. Our hands and feet are tied,’ she explains.

complementary activities

EASY

Emigrating out of hiding

Written by Elia Pons

LGBTQI+ people in Africa are forced to leave their countries because of homophobia and social rejection.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 108 million people around the world are forced to live far from their home countries. They are fleeing armed conflict, dictatorial regimes and sometimes persecution because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Tired of living in these conditions, LGTBIQ+ people seek to start a new life away from violence and criminalisation.

Before I came to Spain, I buried six trans women in my country. This is the harsh testimony of Rusly Cachina, a trans woman from Equatorial Guinea who has been living in Barcelona for just over a year. She left her homeland, the city of Malabo, persecuted for her trans activism, which infuriated the local authorities. My migration was forced. I didn’t want to leave my country, but I was forced to. Equatorial Guinea did not guarantee me a dignified life,’ she explains.

In 2016, together with other members of the collective, she founded the NGO ‘Somos Parte del Mundo‘ (We are part of the world) to fight for LGTBIQ+ rights in Equatorial Guinea. They began to denounce the abuses and persecution suffered by the group in the country, and then the threats began. I had to hide from the authorities several times because of my activism. They knew me, they knew where to find me. I was a visible person and that bothered them. My family started to fear for my life, so I decided to come to Spain,’ says Rusly.

Being LGTBIQ+ in Equatorial Guinea, as in many other African countries, is a real risk. Homosexual, bisexual, trans and intersex people are systematically criminalised and persecuted. In Equatorial Guinea, we suffer abuse, torture and imprisonment for simply being who we are, with the complicity of the country’s authorities. Just walking down the street can be a big risk because we are targets for harassment, abuse and rape, even murder,’ says Rusly.

In 2020, We Are Part of the World published a report about the human rights violations suffered by the group in the country. serious injury. The document includes testimony and evidence of the arrest of four young men accused of being gay, as well as many other cases of physical assault and serious injury, and much evidence of ongoing government violations.

“Mine is a forced migration. I didn’t want to leave my country, but Equatorial Guinea did not guarantee me a good life”

Imprisonment or death for being who they are

In many African countries there is what is known as state homophobia. This manifests itself in discriminatory laws that directly punish homosexuality and transsexuality. LGTBIQ+ people are completely unprotected. This violence and persecution go unreported because it is the authorities themselves who carry it out and they enjoy total impunity,’ says Adrián Vives, advocacy coordinator of the Catalan Commission for Refugee Aid (CCAR).

Up to 64 UN member states criminalise same-sex relations, according to the latest report by the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA). In some countries, such as Mauritania, Somalia and Nigeria, homosexuality is even punishable by death. In others, such as Sudan, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia, the penalty is life imprisonment. In Africa, only South Africa recognises equal marriage and has specific laws against discrimination against homosexuals.

There are no laws in Equatorial Guinea that explicitly prohibit homosexuality or transsexuality. However, LGTBIQ+ people, particularly transgender people, face severe persecution from the authorities. Human rights violations are commonplace and normalised. Trans people are treated like criminals. We always carry money in our pockets in case we need to bribe the police to avoid going to jail. We have to know which areas of the city we can go to and what time we can go out,’ says Rusly.

Family rejection and conversion therapies

Although it was not an easy journey, Rusly’s family eventually accepted his trans identity. My family had a hard time, but in the end, they accepted who I was. They told me that I could be whoever I wanted to be at home, but outside, on the street, I had to pretend to be a boy to protect my life,’ she explains.

In many cases, family and social rejection leads LGTBIQ+ people to undergo conversion therapy. The practice is common in countries such as Equatorial Guinea, Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda, and has been condemned by the United Nations. In an attempt to correct what is seen as a deviation or illness, families send their sons and daughters to churches or quakeries where they are subjected to all kinds of violence, especially sexual and physical, so that, according to Rusly, “the spirit that possesses them leaves their body”. Other practices include the use of drugs that cause severe hallucinations and a high number of deaths. Other practices include the use of drugs that cause severe hallucinations and a high number of deaths.

Families also often resort to forced parenthood as a form of ‘compensation’. They make us have children to compensate for the disappointment we have caused them. That’s why they arrange marriages for us at the age of 14, because they think we will end the family line,’ says Rusly.

This abandonment by families and institutions means that many people, often minors, end up being homeless in situations of severe social exclusion. It is at this point, when the person is in a situation of great vulnerability, that trafficking networks come into play. Through deception and taking advantage of the complete lack of family and social support, many LGTBIQ+ people are recruited by trafficking networks to be forced into prostitution or labour exploitation,” says Adrián Vives.

Discrimination persists in the host country

Faced with violence in their home countries, many LGTBIQ+ people are forced to seek protection elsewhere. International law states that anyone fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or sexual characteristics can be considered a refugee and therefore have the right to seek asylum in another country. In practice, however, it is not that simple. I’ve been living in Barcelona for over a year now and I still haven’t managed to complete the asylum process. The system is tortuous and slow, and that does not help you organise your life,’ says Rusly, who has had to work illegally in the meantime to support herself.

The CCAR also denounces these obstacles in the international asylum application process. In asylum interviews, it is often said that the person’s story is not credible. It is assumed that the person does not belong to the collective and is deceiving the authorities in order to obtain international protection. That is why they are asked to prove their sexual orientation or gender identity, which is very difficult to do,’ says Vives.

According to the CCAR advocacy coordinator, there are many difficulties in obtaining asylum if there is no legal discrimination or persecution against the LGTBIQ+ group in the country of origin, although there may be strong social discrimination.

“Here I am a trans, migrant and black girl and that has put a lot of barriers in my way”

As well as the administrative difficulties of the asylum process, people can also face stigma and discrimination in host countries. Here I am a trans, migrant and black girl, and that has put a lot of barriers in my way,” says Rusly. Barriers, she says, even at work. The integration of trans people into the labour market is very complicated. There is no demand for us in the labour market and we can only find precarious part-time jobs. We are only wanted in kitchens, hairdressing salons or prostitution,’ she says.

Achieving the dream life in the host country is a difficult task. Expectations are often not met, and being away from family and friends doesn’t help: ‘I exist here, but I have no life. Many people think that the security we have here is everything. It’s true that we have security and rights that we didn’t have before, but we also suffer discrimination,’ says Rusly, ‘and I feel that I’m missing out on a lot: my parents’ old age, my nephew, my twin brother…’ she adds.

Rusly would like to return to Equatorial Guinea in a few years’ time, if the situation allows. We can do a lot of social awareness work, but if the institutions do not allow us to exist, it is very difficult to move forward. Our hands and feet are tied,’ she explains.

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