To not miss any African news, subscribe to the newsletter of “World Africa” from this link. Every Saturday at 6 a.m., find a week of news and debates covered by the editorial staff of the “World Africa”.
November 8, 2017 is a date that Mamadi will not soon forget. That day, the life of the young Senegalese (who wished to remain anonymous like all the people mentioned by a first name in this article) changed. ” My boyfriend had come to visit me at my father’s house. When we went to my room, we forgot to lock the door. One of my father’s wives came to pick us up for dinner, and caught us kissing. says Mamadi, now 25 years old and an asylum seeker in France.
The young man’s father is a well-respected marabout in his village, located in western Senegal. That evening, the cries of her stepmother stir up the faithful, who catch up with the two boys in their flight. They are beaten with punches, kicks, sticks. “ I who am strong, I returned blow for blow. But my boyfriend is more frail, they broke his bones, broke his knuckles, cracked his skull. »
The couple get away in extremis and find refuge in Dakar, where they survive in hiding. Until the day when Mamadi bumps into a faithful of his father, visiting the capital: “He told me that my father had ordered the men in my village to hunt me down and kill me, to clear his shame of having a homosexual son. He didn’t want to get his hands dirty, but I had to run before someone else found me. I had put some money aside, I decided to leave the country to save my life. »
Like him, hundreds of homosexual, bisexual or transgender people seek asylum in France each year. Ardhis, the main aid association for LGBT asylum seekers, has since 2005 supported more than 5,000 exiles from the Maghreb or sub-Saharan Africa, in particular from the DRC, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Senegal.
“We can’t prove who we are”
Currently, 40 countries on the continent do not offer legal protection to LGBT people, 27 countries repress homosexuality, and four punish it with death. On February 20, a demonstration was organized in Dakar, at the call of traditionalist associations, to demand the strengthening of the legal arsenal against homosexuality. Videos of homophobic slogans brandished by the demonstrators have made the rounds on social networks.
” The media coverage is new, but not the reality of homophobia on the continent, reacts Fanny Raybaud, volunteer for four years at Ardhis. This type of event corroborates stories that have been heard for years among asylum seekers. » While all trajectories are unique, the stories of these asylum seekers often have similarities.
“The social obligation to maintain an appearance of heterosexuality, until marriage, arranged or forced, with marital rape, love stories lived in secret, the constant fear of being discovered…lists Fanny Raybaud. And when that happens, immediate reprisals, violence, lynchings. In the DRC, we hear many cases of kidnappings and “corrective rapes”. »
This sinister formula designates the gang rapes orchestrated in conservative countries to ” to correct “ female homosexuality. This is what happened to Milaine Pinzi Keni, who fell in love with the daughter of a Congolese army dignitary, General Georges Kibonge. ” When he found out, he had me kidnapped by his men, she says four years later, her eyes hard under her braids. They held me for three days in an army centre. They tortured me and they said to me: “Now we will show you how a woman should behave.” Then they raped me. »
Released after her mother paid a heavy ransom to her jailers, Milaine fears being caught again and goes clandestinely to France. After a long year of misery, without fixed accommodation, she accepts the advances of a man who offers her sex for money. When she passed her hearing at the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Ofpra) in the summer of 2020, she was six months pregnant. His request was rejected and his steps resulted in an obligation to leave French territory (OQTF). She is now trying to raise her one-and-a-half-year-old son in Melun, where she is staying with a friend, while waiting to file an appeal.
“ We expect from them a clear, coherent, circumstantial, dated and detailed account, summarizes the jurist Cornélia Mary, who was two years rapporteur at the National Court of Asylum (CNDA). However, we often deal with deeply traumatized people, who are asked to relive, sometimes for the fourth or fifth time, extremely painful situations. » Added to this is the internalized guilt of a sexuality perceived as unnatural and anti-African.
“ It’s very difficult to tell judges, social workers, even volunteers, that I’m a lesbian, testifies Kourtney, a 32-year-old Gabonese who fled Libreville in September 2018 with her partner following a “corrective rape”. I’m scared, I’m ashamed. Even at the Ofpra, the words wouldn’t come out of my mouth. We can’t say who we are, to prove what we are. »
After a first rejection of her asylum application, the young woman attempted suicide. “If I’m sent back to Gabon, it’s death anyway. So much for preventing others from getting their hands dirty. » Her appeal to the CNDA was finally accepted in April 2021, at the same time as that of her partner Dalia, with whom she now lives in Amiens. She had to produce proof of the violence suffered, show the medical certificates from the Athens hospital where she stayed for a month to treat her infected wounds, show the scars on her body “disfigured”.
For some, the process can take two to three years and end with an OQTF. Others, like Bilal, are granted asylum within months. The young 28-year-old Algerian has delicate features and intellectual phrasing. His hands come alive when he talks about politics, he campaigned for Sandrine Rousseau, candidate for the Europe Ecologie-les Verts (EELV) primary. He sips his coffee on one of the terraces of the Palais-Royal garden, in the 1er district of Paris. ” I am a doctor, in a relationship with a gallery owner where I live, I express myself well in French. For the administration, I ticked all the boxes, he acknowledges. I guess that’s why my file passed easily! »
His voice barely hoarse when he talks about his mother’s violent reaction last summer after he revealed his homosexuality to her on the phone. “ It was cries, insults, tears. She told me that I put the family to shame, that I should change my name. She called me every day to tell me that she was going to kill herself and send her nephews to Paris to kill me. » Filed in August 2021, his asylum application was accepted in March 2022.
“I know I was very lucky”, says Bilal again. He should soon land an associate trainee position in a Parisian hospital. His moorings are now severed with his native country: Ofpra has recovered his Algerian papers. Bilal does not rule out getting married and taking his friend’s name, “It would be a nice snub to my mother”, he slips into a smile. His gaze is lost in the grayness of Paris. “Of course I miss the sun of my country. But here I can hold my boyfriend’s hand on the street. And this freedom is priceless. »