In Uganda it is illegal to be gay. At the moment the maximum is 14 years and it is on course to be the death penalty. That is what I was running away from. My partner and I were put in prison, but it is a corrupt country so my family got me out. But there is a belief in certain cultures that if you kill the person who has done something you will take away that thing from the family, so I was in fear of my own family. They got me out of prison but they wanted me dead.
When I got through Heathrow I thought – this is it! I am going to be free. I am going to go to Croydon to claim asylum and I am going to be safe. What happened was the complete opposite. At the interview they brought an interpreter in. I can speak English but because I did not have a valid passport on me they said they needed to prove where I was coming from. When I said why I was seeking asylum she said (in our language), ‘ It’s people like you who give Uganda a bad name, things like that can’t happen in Uganda’.
When my case was refused I was shocked. I got in touch with my solicitor again. Only then did she start preparing evidence. I had forensic photos of my body because I had had physical fresh wounds which had been inflicted in the prison. We went to court and that’s when it became quite evident that the solicitor wasn’t that interested in the case, because she had prepared only a skeleton argument in which she said ‘My client cannot be returned to Azerbaijan’. The judge just said ‘You have clearly copied and pasted this from somewhere. Your client is from Uganda or Azerbaijan?’ I got a refusal again.
Someone suggested I go to GMIAU and when my caseworker there looked at my papers she was furious at the way my case had been mishandled. That was the point at which I felt that someone was feeling my frustration, was frustrated on my behalf. I don’t have enough words in the English language to say how good she was. It sticks in my mind how she stayed behind after hours to take my statement. You won’t get many professionals like that. It was during that time that I started the campaign and my caseworker supported it. I still have copies of the online petition that I printed out. People left comments that were furious on my behalf, and it felt so good.
On appeal I got my leave to remain. During the process I had been running on adrenaline. Before, I had all these fantasies that I would have a party, it’s going to be amazing. But that feeling lasted all of a week. When you get the papers the practical problems begin – your support stops, you have no house, no money. You have to start at the bottom again. We had a shop in Uganda, selling clothes and I thought perhaps I could go into retail again. I had a business mind. But then I started thinking that I want to work with people. I had joined this group who were helping people seeking asylum because of their sexuality. So when the opportunity came to apply for the job with the Red Cross to look after asylum seekers and refugee women in the Bolton area, which is where I live, I thought ‘Why not?’ I didn’t really think for one minute that I would get the job – but I did get the job, and I love it because it is about empowering women.
My partner is out of prison now so I am in contact with her, so there is a chance she could come here. As soon she gets her passport we will put in an application for her. It’s so nice that I can call her – I am spending so much money on calling Uganda right now!