“Worse than pigs and dogs.” Those were the words of President Robert Mugabe in 2017 in relation to homosexual people. If any more proof was needed of the dangers faced by LGBT+ people in Zimbabwe, Niki gave it as we talked on the phone. “You would think that such an educated nation would really understand human diversity and accept homosexuality, but actually it’s the total opposite. You are shunned, you are shamed, you are publicly humiliated, in most cases you get arrested. It’s really ugly. From society at large to leadership. The ordinary people in the street think it’s the filthiest and most satanic thing to be.”
In certain cases, homophobes would pretend to be sexually interested, sending texts and messages and once a response was forthcoming, blackmail the LGBT+ person for money, threatening to tell the police.The families of LGBT+ were easy targets as well, so much so that there are very few “safe spaces,” Niki explained. “There is an organisation that I once worked for called the Gays and Lesbians of Zimbabwe. We would get raided after every two or three days, we’d get abused so many times. So it’s not like there’s an organisation that can cushion you.”
Niki was in an unhealthy relationship with a top government official at the time. “After our fall out he tried to use all sorts of resources including state security agents against me. Because I had threatened to go public with the abuse that I was getting. I had to go underground. I could have gone to South Africa, but it’s just an extension of Zimbabwe. To seek asylum there would have been the biggest mistake of my life, they would have just come and fished me out.”
While never initially planning to live in Ireland, a desperate situation meant he knew he had to leave. But what at first may have seemed like sanctuary would soon offer its own set of trials. Upon landing in Ireland, Niki was placed in the Direct Provision system.
“This has been the most gruelling experience I’ve gone through in my life. I’m grateful I’ve got a roof over my head, I’ve got a meal when I’m hungry, I’ve got healthcare, but that’s the very least of my problems. Being in Direct Provision is similar to someone who’s in an open prison. I’ve been reduced from what I was to nothing. It’s a process that takes away a great part of your dignity.
“I’m a health professional myself so I know someone’s breaking point. I tried to get assistance here but even the psychological assistance, you wait for months before you can actually get to see someone”.
Niki spoke of a situation many other LGBT+ asylum seekers have reported before – fleeing homophobic abuse in their places of origin only to be housed with people holding those same views. “People get bundled up in hotels, three, four, five strangers in a room. Not even considering you are LGBT+, they just put you in a room with a bunch of strange men, some of them are homophobes. You are reliving that ordeal again.
“On November 2 last year, I suffered a homophobic attack in my centre. Somebody told me that in his country they burn people like me. The manager of the centre was very helpful, she really did a great job trying to make sure I’m okay. I went to the Garda, they were helpful, but I reported a case in November and nothing has been happening. The person walks around as if nothing has happened, he sees me when he’s with his friends and they laugh. I came to seek sanctuary and now I’m a laughing stock again.”
Niki continues, “There’s no guarantee of my safety. I thought I had actually run away from all that and now I’ve come again to relive it.”
One bright light in the experience has been Niki’s time volunteering at a local radio station where they have been given a weekly slot. “Apart from medicine, music has always been my love. And I love talking to people, I think I’m a great communicator. When I’m behind the microphone I feel very good. That show per week I look forward to. I get great feedback from the listeners on social media. The management at the radio station have agreed to take in a proposal for me to do a show on LGBT+ asylum seekers. I will be able then to tell people’s stories so that the general populace of Ireland can understand what LGBT+ asylum seekers are going through.”
Having been in Ireland for nine months, Niki will hopefully soon be able to get a job in health care. His dream is a very simple one – “I would love to live in a quiet countryside, somewhere close to the sea and peaceful. Somewhere I can drive home from work after a long day and relax.”
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