UK grants asylum to gay football referee from Zim

A 30 year old gay man has been granted asylum in the UK after alleging he was outed in his hometown of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Raymond Mashamba, a football referee, made the claim for asylum in London after officiating at the CONIFA World Football Cup, on the grounds it would be unsafe for him to return home, reported Sky Sports.

Mashamba was outed to his family and local community after a man blackmailing him over his sexuality chose to share the information, which was later picked up by a Zimbabwean newspaper due to media attention over his refereeing at the World Football Cup.

Displays of affection between members of the same sex is illegal in Zimbabwe, where discrimination and violence against LGBTI people is common.

The UK Home Office has granted Mashamba an initial five year asylum, and he will be eligible to apply for settlement in 2023.

Mashamba was supported throughout his bid for asylum by CONIFA and London Titans FC, a LGBTI-friendly football club.

“It’s heartening to hear of this positive outcome, particularly when taken against a political backdrop that has not always been accommodating of issues around LGBT asylum. All of us at London Titans FC are delighted that Raymond now has the stability to plan his future,” Titans secretary Stuart Forward told Sky Sports.

“Supporting him throughout his asylum bid has highlighted the universal importance of community, especially in the face of prejudice and discrimination. The Titans exists to provide a safe and engaging space for players of all sexualities and gender identities to enjoy their football free from fear of isolation or persecution.”

London Titans FC is also looking into establishing a fund to assist LGBTI refugees and asylum seekers in accessing football and the community a sports team can provide.

Paul Watson, CONIFA board member and director of the World Football Cup in London, also said the organisation would continue to support Mashamba.

“We’re really delighted Raymond’s going to have a chance to be safe and to be able to build a life here in the UK,” he said.

“It’s a cliché that football is a family but the way in which both the CONIFA and LGBT football communities have rallied around Raymond – a person who had no initial support at all when he arrived here – shows a genuine bond. You need family most when you’re in a desperate situation.”

“I have to thank everyone for being there for me,” Raymond Mashamba told Sky Sports. “The Titans, CONIFA and AFC Muswell Hill in particular have been so supportive.”

“I now want to continue with my studies and also with my refereeing. I also want to continue to fight for LGBT rights for people in Zimbabwe.”

According to a PinkNews report, in the UK the success rate of claims of asylum on the basis of sexuality is very low, with only 289 of 1,436 claims made between October 2015 – September 2016 being granted.

LGBTI asylum seekers often face difficulty in proving their sexuality due to the high threshold of documented evidence required in a number of cases, with the process in some countries relying on stereotypes and misinformation to categorise people’s sexuality.

Earlier this year Austria denied asylum to a gay Afghan refugee for not “walking, dressing, or acting gay”, while later rejecting asylum to a gay Iraqi refugee for displaying “unbelievable” “excessive girlish behaviour”.

And in 2017 Australia denied asylum to gay refugees because they were deemed not to be effeminate enough, or couldn’t answer questions about Madonna or Oscar Wilde.

An estimated 30 – 40 gay or bisexual men are believed to be amongst the refugees who sought asylum in Australia currently living on Manus Island, where homosexuality is considered a crime.

“No one knows how many gay, transgender or bisexual refugees live on Manus, but what is clear is that the suffering they experienced in their countries has been repeated on Manus in a disastrous way,” refugee and journalist Behrouz Boochani wrote in The Guardian.

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