Man tortured by his own parents for being gay seeks sanctuary in Cardiff

Report by ITV Wales journalists Siôn Jenkins, Rob Milburn & Tom Brown-Lowe

In 69 countries around the world, it is illegal to be gay. Engaging in same-sex sexual activity can see people imprisoned for up to 10 years and, in some countries, even sentenced to death.

It means that across the world, people are forced to live in fear, too terrified to be themselves. 

Sadly, many see no option but to suppress their true feelings and live life in secrecy. 

But there are those who choose to move their life to a country more accepting of who they are - including the UK. 

Of the 48,000 applications for asylum in the UK each year, sexual orientation forms the basis of around 1,000 of them.

Applicants are housed in towns and cities across the UK, including in Cardiff, where an organisation called Hoops and Loops works to support them.

Mark Lewis offers support to asylum seekers through Hoops and Loops. Credit: ITV News

Mark Lewis has been running the group since 2018. He’s at the centre seven days a week and offers advice and practical help to LGBT asylum seekers as well as a place to meet others going through the same thing.

“It gives them a safe space for them to come to meet other LGBT asylum seekers who are going through exactly the same situation as them. It also gives them a sense of community and family", said Mark.

'My parents abandoned me and they tortured me terribly'

One of those who attends the group is ‘Michael’ - not his real name - who was a school teacher in Uganda before he fled because of his sexuality.

Same-sex sexual activity in Uganda is a crime and Michael says that when he told his parents about his sexuality that they punished him by torturing him.

Michael told ITV News: “Being a homosexual is not allowed in Uganda. They take you to prison and beat you up. All the time you find yourself in hideout. If you do it openly, they will get you and you will be taken to prison, you will be punished severely.

“My parents abandoned me and they tortured me terribly. I decided to come and seek asylum in the UK, to have a free life.”

When asylum seekers arrive in the UK, they must wait to be granted leave to remain by the Home Office in order to stay here.

Leave to remain is also known as settlement and gives someone the right to live, work and study here for as long as they like.

‘Baba’ was a construction worker in Ghana before he fled to the UK. Credit: ITV News

The Home Office says a decision usually takes 6-months. However in Mark’s experience, it often takes much longer. 

Mark says that members of the group find the uncertainty surrounding their future extremely difficult, particularly after the persecution they have experienced.

‘Baba’- whose name has also been changed, arrived in the UK five-years ago and is still hoping to be given leave to remain. 

He says that after arriving, he waited months just to be interviewed about his application. ‘Baba’ says that he was asked highly personal questions about his sexuality which he found distressing. 

“It can be really, really intense", Baba told ITV News.

"Some of the questions they can ask you are, ‘when was the first time you had, like, seen sex with another. ‘How was it?’ and ‘How did you feel?”

‘Baba’ says that feeling like you have no purpose can have an impact on the mental health of applicants. Credit: ITV News

Mark says that the interviews are often three to four hours long and include hundreds of questions. 

The Home Office says that the welfare and dignity of all claimants will continue to form a central platform of its decision-making processes.

It added that all individuals are given every opportunity to disclose information relevant to their claim before a decision is taken, including where it may be sensitive or difficult to disclose.

A Home Office spokesperson continued: “Processes are underpinned by a robust framework of safeguards and quality checks, ensuring that claims based on LGBT+ issues are properly considered, decisions are sound, and that protection is granted to those who genuinely need it.”

While applicants wait for a decision on their application, they’re unable to work and are given less than forty-pounds a week to live on. 

'Life was bleak'

‘Baba’ says that having to survive day-to-day with little money and feeling like you have no purpose can have an impact on mental health.

‘Jack’ - again, not his real name - lived in fear of persecution as a gay man in Ghana. After years of uncertainty, he’s received his leave to remain thanks to the support of Hoops and Loops. 

“Life was bleak, so it was really hard for me should I have been caught", said Jack.

"Inwardly I never felt happy when I realised my sexuality.”

Now though, Jack’s life couldn't be more different. He has the confidence to be himself.

Jack describes how his life has changed since moving to Cardiff

“Life is really good in Cardiff, because Cardiff is LGBT-friendly, the people are welcoming - they are nice, it’s really a good place", he said.

It’s that desire to live in a country where you can feel safe and be yourself that Mark wants people to better understand about asylum seekers.

Mark said: “People’s perceptions of asylum seekers will always be ‘oh well they’re coming in to take our jobs. But they’re coming for a reason, whether it’s their sexuality, whether it’s because of religious or political reasons. Until we sit down and get an idea of what’s actually going on, then we’ll have more understanding and what we can provide as a country to them.”

Freedom to be who you are was once a wish for Michael, Baba and Jack. Now it’s a reality. In their home countries however, there are others still suffering and suppressing their true selves - people for whom seeking a better life is still a distant dream.