After many months of frustration, the German activist group Helping a Minority in a Minority (HAMIAM) succeeded in presenting a workshop in Germany that instructed African LGBTI activists about security.
Because of the activists’ difficulties in obtaining visas, the seminar from June 19 to 22 in Cologne was attended by only three participants. Further seminars for more participants are planned in hopes that activists will be able to overcome the difficulties they have experienced receiving visas from German embassies in their countries.
More than 30 LGBTI activists were invited to the June seminar, but 27 of them were unable to attend. None of the invitees from Cameroon or Senegal could get visas. Of four Ugandan activists interviewed at the German embassy in Kampala, only two received visas.
HAMIAM members said the program went well, despite the small number of participants, because each could ask any question they needed to know.
For a planned seminar later in this month, HAMIAM sent out dozens of invitations, but again were frustrated as many visa requests were rejected.
A total of 23 LGBTI invitees from the Gambia were rejected, as were all of those from Cameroon, HAMIAM said. A further attempt will be made to hold a seminar in January 2016.
The original idea was for a security seminar in Cologne for July 2014.
“In the beginning of 2014 we had the idea to create a safety seminar to help young gays and lesbians to live safely in Uganda,” explains HAMIAM spokesperson Alexander Cherif. “It was all about strategies for what people could do if they were confronted with violence or if people they knew were confronted with violence. There were self-defense strategies that could save their lives and save other people’s lives.”
“This is training to manage stress, to manage fear, to handle threats, to try to defuse problems diplomatically and use verbal and nonverbal self-defense techniques,” said conference organizer Eugene Litvinov. “We had also planned spiritual support … not religious, but psychological. Basically, how do you behave in a crisis situation, and how can you train other people?”
“We could put up and feed people here, we had all the right insurance, we’d given stipends to the trainers already and they had saved the dates; we invited people for a long weekend,” Cherif said.
The seminar was to include 36 young Ugandans from the Kampala-based advocacy group Youth on Rock Foundation. None received a visa.
HAMIAM was told that they had not allocated enough time to process visa applications, so they rescheduled the seminar for December 2014.
“This time we invited 12 people and all of them got refused again,” Cherif said.
According to documents from the German embassy in Kampala obtained by Cherif and reviewed by Erasing 76 Crimes, the activists’ visas were refused because consular officials didn’t think the Ugandans would return home from Germany.
“They [the embassy] suggested we hold the seminar in Kampala, but we said that wasn’t reasonable,” said Litvinov. “Then they said the people who got approved could give the training to those who didn’t—only nobody got approved.”
Youth on Rock Foundation director Morgan Kanyike said the German officials’ concerns are understandable but baseless.
“If we wanted to get asylum, we’d seek asylum. I know I can go to any foreign embassy in Nairobi and get asylum, because I’m on the front line of activism; I’ve been arrested and threatened. The police know where we’re sleeping and they have all our phone numbers,” Kanyike said.
“We are not asylum seekers. We would never want to leave our members behind. We have members who have come out because they knew we were there and they could rely on us. For us, it’s not a good idea to run away— what about those you leave behind? We decided to stay in our country to fight for our rights from here. Our mission was just to go [to Germany] and get the information and come back.”
Kanyike finally got a visa that allowed him to attend the seminar in June.
This article includes information from reporter Ruby Pratka.
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