Can I Apply for Asylum in the U.S. If I'm From Uganda?

Types of circumstances that may lead a citizen of Uganda to successfully obtain asylum protection in the U.S.

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Ugandans have long sought and obtained asylum in the United States. Beginning in the mid-1970s, Ugandans began arriving in the U.S. after having escaped from Ida Amin’s terror. By the 1990s, fewer Ugandans were seeking asylum on that basis.

However, the rate of U.S. asylum claims from Uganda is picking up again, due to the passage of a law there that expands the penalties for homosexuality. As of February 2014, that law includes a lifetime prison sentence for having sex while HIV positive. Owing to a well-founded fear of future persecution based on membership in a particular social group (homosexuals), many gay men and women are trying to leave Uganda.

Unfortunately, it is difficult for young Ugandans to obtain a visa to enter the United States, where they could apply for asylum (as described in “Gays And Lesbians Seeking Asylum In U.S. May Find A Hard Road” by NPR's Richard Gonzales (February 26, 2014).)

Do Many People Gain Asylum From Uganda?

According to the Refugee Council of Australia, 8,558 Ugandan asylum seekers were recognized globally as refugees in 2012. With many reports documenting that homosexuals are being persecuted in Uganda, as well as evidence that the government is not respecting human rights, Ugandans are successfully winning asylum in the United States.

What Type of Asylum Claims Are Typical From Uganda?

There are currently many Ugandans claiming asylum on account of their membership in a particular social group (homosexuals).

Political activists also come to the U.S. after having been persecuted or threatened. According to the State Department's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2013, there were 81 political prisoners being detained on charges of treason at that time. The government also detained and interrogated radio presenters and political leaders who made public statements the government found to be critical.

What Are Common Reasons for Denial of Asylum Claims From Uganda?

The most common reason for an immigration judge or asylum officer to deny an asylum claim from Uganda is disbelief in the applicant's claim. Some judges or officers have difficulty believing an applicant is homosexual, particularly if the asylum applicant does not visually match the judge or officers personal view of what a homosexual looks like.

This can lead to the judge or officer to ask inappropriate questions and/or deny the claim because he or she did not find the applicant credible.

Political activists who are afraid to return to Uganda must convince a judge or officer that they are, indeed, activists. Testimony in any asylum case must be detailed, consistent, and plausible.

What Can Ugandans Do to Increase the Chances of a Successful Asylum Claim?

If you are homosexual, it will be important to explain, in the course of your application, that the society in Uganda considers homosexuals to be a group that is separate from other people. It should not matter whether you “look” gay or whether you live a closeted life. Details should include what your life is like as well as any particular events or acts of persecution that happened to you.

It is also important that you submit evidence that being homosexual and advocating for freedom of sexual orientation is a criminal act in your country. See Nolo’s article, “Preparing Persuasive Documents for Your Asylum Application,” for help with this part of the process.

Activists who claim to have been persecuted or fear persecution should submit any documents supporting their political activity, including any political party identification cards, election monitor badges, and especially any articles or reports that name you or the activities you were involved in. Be ready to explain your political views and positions, and know the names of the people in office.

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