Media wrong that Belgium granted asylum to 1,800 Senegalese gay people

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Senegalese media reported that 1,839 men and women from the West African country had been given asylum in Belgium between 2010 and 2014 on grounds of being gay. The numbers are rising but not that high.

Senegalese media reported on 8 December that, in the five years since 2010, Belgium has given asylum to 1,839 of its citizens because of persecution for being gay.

A news report on the Wabitimrew.net website for members of the Senegalese diaspora quoted a senior Belgian official as saying that “since 2010 a total of 3,280 Senegalese had been given asylum in Belgium. Of these, 1,839 were on the grounds of being homosexual.

“These demands for asylum come not only from men. 327 of the 1,839 granted asylum were women on grounds of being lesbian,” the official was quoted as saying.

“Senegal is not ready for sexual liberty. This is why Belgium gives asylum to Senegalese gay people,” another unnamed official reportedly said.

So are the numbers reliable?

As part of the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa (Icasa) that took part in December 2008 in Dakar, Senegal, a workshop on "sexual minorities" was held. Photo: AFP/SEYLLOU DIALLO
As part of the International Conference on AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in Africa (Icasa) that took part in December 2008 in Dakar, Senegal, a workshop on “sexual minorities” was held. Photo: AFP/SEYLLOU DIALLO

Is this true? Africa Check contacted the office of Theo Francken, secretary of state for asylum and migration in Belgium, who promised by email to respond “very quickly” or pass our query on to the relevant authorities. To date, we have not had a response but we will update this report if we do.

But Damien Dermaux, spokesman for Belgian’s commission for refugees and stateless persons, the Commissariat général aux réfugiés et aux apatrides (or CGRA) which is responsible for asylum numbers, told Africa Check the claim is false.

“The numbers are simply a fantasy,” he said. “Over the past five years (2010 to 2014) Belgium had 1,781 asylum applications by people from Senegal on different grounds.”

Between 2010 and 2014, a total of 319 asylum applications by people from Senegal “were accepted on grounds of their sexual orientation and identity” primarily for being gay, he added.

Year Asylum applications to Belgium from Senegal on different grounds Asylum applications accepted on grounds of being gay
2010 252 55
2011 397 94
2012 534 45
2013 344 73
2014 254 52
Total 1,781 319

Source: Belgian Commission for refugees and stateless people (CGRA)

Nevertheless, the number of asylum applications made to Belgium on grounds of applicants’ sexual orientation is rising, Dermaux said.

“We had 376 asylum applications to the CGRA from all parts of the world on these grounds in 2009,” he said. By 2013 this had increased to 1,225 before dropping to 1,070 in 2014. Figures for 2015 will not be available until next year.

Not all applicants are granted refugee status. Of the 1,070 applications made in 2014 on grounds of applicants’ sexual orientation, 295 were approved. The applicants came from 70 different countries with Senegal leading the field, having 52 applications for refugee status accepted, Dermaux said.

Why are Senegalese gay people fleeing their country?

A man reads an article while listening to a statement delivered by Muslim religious leaders in Dakar in April 2009 criticising the release of 9 men allegedly jailed for being homosexual. Photo: AFP/GEORGES GOBET
A man reads an article while listening to a statement delivered by Muslim religious leaders in Dakar in April 2009 criticising the release of 9 men allegedly jailed for being homosexual. Photo: AFP/GEORGES GOBET

At least 34 African states outlaw same-sex relations, including Senegal. It is treated in the penal code as “an immodest or unnatural act” punishable by up to five years in jail and a fine of 100,000 to 1.5 million CFA francs.

Speaking to Africa Check, Seydi Gassama, executive secretary of Amnesty International in Senegal, said there is no protection for gay people in Senegal. “The government should protect gay people against abuse, when it is informed of that,” he said.

Legal rights activist Saliou Sambou, formerly of the rights group Rencontre Africaine pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme (RADDHO), agreed, telling Africa Check: “Homosexuality is tolerated by the government but gay people live in insecurity because the law bans homosexuality,” he said. “Many people have been sentenced in recent years for ‘acts against nature’.”

Conclusion: The figures reported are wrong, though asylum application numbers are rising

The claim about the number of asylum applications accepted by Belgium on grounds of sexual orientation and identity – a claim picked up and repeated apparently without question by different news media in Senegal – is wrong.

According to available data, the number of Senegalese granted asylum in Belgium in the last five years due to their sexual orientation is 319, not 1,839. It is a big difference.

The Belgian figures show, nevertheless, that Senegal topped the list of countries people flee on grounds of being gay, accounting for 249 applications in 2014 of which 52 claims were accepted.

Translated by Peter Cunliffe-Jones

 

Additional reading

How many African states outlaw same-sex relations? (At least 34)

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