Evidence of meeting #127 for Citizenship and Immigration in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was countries.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Bibe Kalalu  President, Angels Refugee Support Group Association
1  As an Individual
Salma Zahid  Scarborough Centre, Lib.
Anna Vogt  Director, Ottawa Office, Mennonite Central Committee Canada
John Clayton  Director of Programs and Projects, Samaritan's Purse Canada
Rebekah Sears  Policy Analyst, Mennonite Central Committee Canada
Ramez Ayoub  Thérèse-De Blainville, Lib.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair (Mr. Robert Oliphant (Don Valley West, Lib.)) Liberal Rob Oliphant

I am going to call this meeting to order, which is 127th meeting of the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) we are studying migration challenges and opportunities for Canada in the 21st century.

We thank all the witnesses for joining us. It's very late in Kampala tonight. We're very pleased that you're able to join us. In this first round, we have about 50 minutes. We're going to hear from our witnesses who are each going to present their stories, concerns or thoughts for this committee, as we engage in a study on people who are on the move, either being forced to move from their homes or choosing to move from their homes.

We're going to start with the Angels Refugee Support Group Association for the first presentation. You are given between seven and 10 minutes.

3:35 p.m.

Bibe Kalalu President, Angels Refugee Support Group Association

Good evening, everyone.

My name is Bibe Kalalu and I am the President of the Angels Refugee Support Group Association, an organization created in Uganda in 2009 in response to the discrimination and persecution of LGBT nationals in Uganda, as well as LGBT persons from the African Great Lakes countries and East Africa.

I am a Congolese refugee and a member of the LGBT community in Uganda.

I want to tell you why LGBT refugees in Uganda suffer a great deal because of their gender identity and the kind of problems this leads to.

First of all, Uganda is an extremely homophobic country where LGBT persons are constantly under tension or subject to prosecution.

In the next seven minutes, I will address four points.

First, there is a lot of discrimination against LGBT persons in the health sector. In Uganda, health services for LGBT persons are very poor, and no hospitals will treat LGBT refugees.

Second, for safety reasons, the refugee community in Uganda does not work with LGBT refugees.

Third, LGBT persons cannot find work and do not receive any assistance.

Fourth, Uganda refuses to grant refugee status to LGBT refugees living in the country and denies their refugee claims. This affects us a great deal.

I will now turn it over to my colleague and will resume my presentation thereafter.

3:35 p.m.

Witness 1 As an Individual

Thank you very much. I don't know if this is my time yet. Maybe I will have to wait.

3:35 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Go ahead. You can share this time as you like, if you want to both take some time and go back to each other, that's fine as well.

3:35 p.m.

As an Individual

Witness 1

Thank you for this opportunity that is given to me and Rainbow Heritage Initiative, which is an organization for LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers here in Uganda.

For security reasons, I prefer to be called Witness 1 in this conference room. I'm going to share some challenges we are facing here in Uganda as LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers.

Point one of my testimony is about claiming asylum based on gender, identity and sexual orientation. The ability to claim asylum based on gender identity or sex orientation is essential; however, it is a challenge for LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees, because if you claim asylum based on your gender or sexual orientation, you risk being arrested immediately.

Currently, our organization has six members from Burundi and Rwanda without asylum documents or refugee status. This issue was shared with UNHCR and OPM, but it is like waiting in vain. As an organization, we are feeling weak and frustrated. We fear there is nothing we can do for our members unless we raise our voices.

It is a huge problem, because for some members if they go to the police, as a starting point, and claim asylum based on gender identity or sexual orientation, they can be arrested immediately. We have tangible examples of some who have been released after being detained. They went back to their home countries, and we don't know if they're still alive or not.

Point two is my personal experience of an LGBTI refugee in Uganda, a transgender man who came from Rwanda. I left my home country in 2010 following a period of detention and torture as a result of being an LGBTI person. I spent four years without a valid document and during that period I had no.... I was not allowed to get refugee I.D. Then I had been sexually and physically assaulted several times by a neighbour. Certainly, I could not report that case, because I had no document that would allow me to report it, and I could have been arrested.

I didn't get any assistance due to that, and I spent more than four years waiting to be resettled. It is not a happy life. There is a time of misery and a painful life.

Point three is about resettlement. In Uganda, we have three durable solutions including voluntary repatriation, local integration and resettlement. When it comes to voluntary repatriation, it is risky. Members can't go back because they fled violence, persecution and discrimination. They risk being killed.

The second option of a durable solution is local integration, which is totally impossible here in Uganda because of the high level of homophobia that is found everywhere.

The third one, which remains a unique durable solution to rescue LGBTI refugees, is really resettlement.

The government of Uganda and the police are against homosexuality. If humanitarian actors try to help, they are silenced by the government, because if you try to or give any assistance to LGBTI people, it is labelled as promotion of homosexuality.

Let me go quickly to the last point, which is on the recommendations.

The first recommendation is that we are requesting the Canadian Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration to talk to the government authorities of Uganda and put pressure on them to change their current practice, because when foreign aid is cut off, they take their frustration out on us, being very homophobic in the name of defending African values.

The second recommendation is to request that the Canadian standing committee put pressure on countries who have missionaries coming to Africa, like religious leaders, for instance, Scott Lively who came and promoted hate in Africa. Even abroad, these people have to obey the laws of the United States. We are requesting Canada to start discussions with the United States to see how this can stop.

The third one is for the standing committee to talk again to OPM and request that LGBTI refugees be granted refugee status. They need to have freedom of rights under the 2006 act, as do other non-LGBTI need to enjoy freedom and their rights.

The last point is to request the Canadian standing committee to talk to different countries and tell them to open the door for LGBTI refugees who are living here in Uganda, because our lives are in danger. We can inform Canada and the UNHCR that it is not safe, and it is like torture to spend more than two years.... Some of us have spent already 10 years and more, and there is risk. At the end, you leave Uganda when you have been harassed, you have been arrested many times, and sometimes people are dying in this way. They leave when their lives have been already affected.

Thank you so much for listening to us.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Thank you both.

Thank you for your presentations and for sharing your story.

We're going to begin with Mr. Sarai.

October 23rd, 2018 / 3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

Thank you for being brave enough to come to speak to us. I want to commend you, Witness 1, as well as your colleague, in bringing this to our attention.

As you know, we're trying to study migration and migration patterns. We're very well aware of your plight. Some of our members have travelled to Africa and witnessed first-hand the camps there, as well as some of the challenges you face.

In terms of questions, I'm going to start backwards.

You had a recommendation, and I'm going to ask you for clarification. You said that you wanted Canada to pressure the U.S. and others, or that the U.S. had some law in terms of missionaries and what they say when they're preaching.

Can you clarify that? I need to know what your request is more clearly.

3:45 p.m.

As an Individual

Witness 1

I was referring to the specific example surrounding Scott Lively's arrival in Uganda, in 2009. After he left, laws were enacted to condemn homosexuality. That is when LGBT persons started having a lot of problems.

So we asked Canada to appeal to the United States to take steps to stop homophobic remarks that engender hate. That is what I was referring to.

I hope that is clearer.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

I get that now. That's what I was trying to figure out.

My second question is based on your fourth recommendation for Canada and other friendly countries to convince Uganda to be more tolerant and not to be homophobic. Can you tell me of countries within Africa that are more friendly to the LGBTQ community? That would help us with building allies.

Which others have demonstrated more tolerant values on the continent of Africa?

3:45 p.m.

As an Individual

Witness 1

My colleague will answer, but I might want to clarify some things after.

3:45 p.m.

President, Angels Refugee Support Group Association

Bibe Kalalu

There are no countries in Africa that encourage homosexuality. It is false, totally false to claim that certain countries are tolerant. In all African countries, people are taught that homosexuality is taboo. When I say “taboo”, that means that something is impure. This attitude is evident all over Africa: a homosexual is never considered a moral and physical person. All LGBT persons who leave their country are subject to discrimination, and that starts in their family. It is also evident in government and in the population.

What we are recommending to major powers such as Canada and the United States is to define what an LGBT person is and to protect our community. LGBT issues have to be continually raised with African governments. They are the ones who encourage the population to reject LGBT persons. Institutions such as governments and churches say that all homosexuals are taboo. That leads to the question: what is taboo?

Like all human beings, homosexuals are created by God. These individual do not choose to be homosexual, but they are taboo. Even if you ask 1,000 doctors, 1,000 pastors and 1,000 heads of state to change a person's gender identity, it cannot be done. It is impossible.

Major powers such as Canada that visit Africa have to use the opportunity to educate African governments appropriately about the LGBT community. They must explain who we are and what we are.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

Do you also want to say something? Please be brief, if you don't mind. I have a couple of questions.

3:50 p.m.

As an Individual

Witness 1

Yes.

I wanted to add that we are presenting our grievances to Canada because you have compassion for us.

To get back to your question, Scandinavian countries such as Sweden, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands show they are compassionate. It is not a question of friendship, but something that comes from the heart.

Right now, Uganda's approach to LGBT issues is exaggerated.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

You said that the refugee community doesn't work with the LGBTQ community. Can you say how they don't? Is it the UNHCR officials who don't work with you? Is it the Ugandan government officials who don't recognize or work with you, or is it both?

3:50 p.m.

President, Angels Refugee Support Group Association

Bibe Kalalu

That is completely normal: the government leads the country and makes the decisions.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees, or HCR, wants to help LGBT persons, but it cannot help those whose asylum claim has been denied by the Ugandan government. A person who is transgender, lesbian or gay will have their asylum claim automatically denied because the police know they belong to that community. They have no right to government assistance.

The HCR is subject to the authority of the Ugandan government, which has the final say on matters involving LGBT persons. It influences the churches and the population. It influences everything.

LGBT refugees and Ugandan LGBT persons need access to health services and the labour market in Uganda.

These are great challenges that we are facing; they come from governments and also affect the organizations. That is the problem.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

Randeep Sarai Liberal Surrey Centre, BC

Thank you.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Rob Oliphant

Up next we have Mr. Tilson.

3:50 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Thank you. I have one question, and then Ms. Rempel will take over.

I have a constituent who is from Nigeria, and he is gay. He was married, and his former wife and family have threatened to kill him if he returns to Nigeria because he's gay. This is Nigeria, mind you, not Uganda. The Nigerian government has similar laws to Uganda.

My question is mainly to help me because he may be deported back to Nigeria as early as next week, and we're trying to stop that. What happens in Uganda if the authorities or the government determine that someone is gay? What would happen to that person, and what are the penalties?

3:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Witness 1

Currently the penalty is death, in cases when they find you in action. They can raise their allegations, which we are always victims of, because even if you are moving or based on how you're putting on your clothes, there are so many reasons they can put you in trouble. I am very sorry for that person because he might be killed.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

By the government...?

3:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Witness 1

Yes, by the government, by mob justice, or by the police. It can be anyone because this is like sensitization or mobilization of the population, the police, and everyone in the country.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

David Tilson Conservative Dufferin—Caledon, ON

Ms. Rempel.

3:55 p.m.

Conservative

Michelle Rempel Conservative Calgary Nose Hill, AB

You've raised some concerns about the danger and threat to the lives of LGBTQI members when they file for refugee status. Can you outline some of the potential threats or harms related to the specific steps in the process of applying for refugee status in Uganda with the UNHCR?

3:55 p.m.

President, Angels Refugee Support Group Association

Bibe Kalalu

To claim refugee status, a person must first go to the police who are responsible for receiving refugees. It is the police in the intelligence service. When a person approaches them, they are investigated and, if their gender identity is discovered, their claim is automatically denied, without warning, assistance or negotiation. The majority of LGBT persons living in Uganda do not have refugee status. We have been wondering how we could obtain it. Some have been lucky and were granted it, but that is not the case for the majority. It is at the interview stage with the police from the intelligence service that refugee status applications are flatly denied.

HCR officials say they are bound by Ugandan law and encourage us to go to the police. Yet the police and the prime minister of Uganda do not want to grant asylum to LGBT persons, even if they are in a very deep abyss. An LGBT person who leaves their country cannot obtain that status. It is very difficult to obtain because of our LGBT orientation.

3:55 p.m.

As an Individual

Witness 1

I would like to add something, if I may.

In terms of the steps in the process, first the person has to go to the police, then to the prime minister's office, or meet with police officers. A person who is finally granted refugee status is no longer considered an asylum seeker. It is at that point that they can typically appeal to the HCR.

I said, however, that certain persons from Rwanda and Burundi were victims of the homeland policy. For example, Rwanda is considered a politically stable country, and the conflict in Burundi is not really recognized by other countries. When those people arrive in Uganda, they continue to be subject to homophobia there. That is why many people do not obtain refugee status or the documents provided to asylum seekers.

Thank you very much.