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'Elizabeth Must Stay' was the message, but Ugandan lesbian is forced home to face torture

Feature by R.J. Thomson | 14 Aug 2006

Campaigners on Elizabeth's behalf knew they couldn't use her surname in their work because of the danger to her family, and particularly her daughter, if more people in her home country of Uganda found out about who she was. Elizabeth is a Ugandan lesbian, who fled five months of captivity, rape, and torture, and came to Manchester seeking asylum in 2004. The campaign was 'Elizabeth Must Stay', for which some of the many friends Elizabeth made in Manchester got together to work against her planned deportation by the Home Office. Last month, sadly, the campaign failed.

The circumstances of Elizabeth's deportation are shocking, and a sad indictment of the arbitrariness and impersonality of the British immigration system. Due to her experiences in Uganda, Elizabeth suffers from severe depression, Rape Trauma Syndrome, and Post Traumatic Stress, and was being treated for these conditions in the UK. On June 8 Elizabeth's lawyer was due to present evidence from a psychiatric report on her, but bizarrely Elizabeth was forced to leave the country just days before this was possible – before all the relevant evidence had been seen. On top of the immediate danger of violence, it is unlikely Elizabeth will receive the treatment she needs in Uganda.

It should be pointed out that Elizabeth complied with our immigration system throughout her case.

Not all campaigns of this kind are so unfortunate. Sakchai Makao, a Thai man living on Shetland who was targeted after the foreign prisoners scandal this April, was returned to the Scottish islands in triumph after a campaign of 8,000 signatures - one in three of the population - urged the government to allow him to stay.

It seems one of the key factors in Elizabeth's case was the "uncertainty" around her identity as a lesbian. With what seems like almost wilful ignorance, the authorities were suspicious of her sexuality because of the fact that Elizabeth has a daughter. Moreover, even though the adjudicators do recognise that homosexuals are persecuted in Uganda, they do not equate the term 'homosexual', or evidence relating to the treatment of homosexuals, with lesbians.

Rosemary Burnett, Amnesty International's Programme Director for Scotland, said: "We have documented ongoing intimidation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in Uganda. Activists are beaten, raped, imprisoned and harassed. As a known lesbian, we fear that Elizabeth will face this kind of treatment upon her forcible return - having already been repeatedly raped, beaten and whipped." She went on to add: "To return an asylum seeker to a country where he or she will face torture is absolutely prohibited by international human rights laws. The government is under an obligation to ensure that returning asylum seekers do not face torture", and asked: "what guarantees did the UK government receive from the government of Uganda in this case?"

One fear held by members of the 'Elizabeth Must Stay' campaign is that her original kidnapping and imprisonment was in fact perpetrated by the Ugandan government.

When asked what liaison there had been between the governments on Elizabeth's behalf, a spokesperson for the Home Office admitted that they could not comment on individual cases. "The government abides by the 1951 convention on the state of refugees, that includes oppression of people on grounds of race, religion, nationality, social group, or political opinion." In practice LGBT people do often fall into the category of a 'social group' who are discriminated against, but ultimately it remains illegal to deport anyone who has reason to be afraid of violence or torture in their home country. Elizabeth certainly did.

Elizabeth's long-term partner in Uganda, with whom she had been having a secret relationship, also disappeared in 2004 and has not been seen or heard from since. The worst is feared, and Elizabeth's depression is understood to be strongly related to her knowledge of this.

If you feel you would like to complain about this case, write to the Minister for Immigration Liam Byrne, at