On Monday, I opened the letter I never wanted to receive. After 10 years living in the UK I was told that I am no longer welcome and should make arrangements to leave the country “without delay” or risk being deported in the middle of the night. As a gay man, whose country of birth, Kenya, persecutes homosexuals, I felt my whole world collapse around me as I read the matter-of-fact words on the Home Office headed paper.
Perhaps I was naive, but I wasn’t expecting this letter. I’ve been in a battle with the Home Office since 2016, and was locked in detention just last year, but somehow I still thought that they would see sense. This is the government department that this month is decorating its Twitter page with the rainbow flag, and whose own policies should, in theory, preclude them from sending gay people to countries where their safety is at risk. But it was a rejection that I read on Monday – and it’s left me reeling. After two years of legal arguments, in a chaotic and dysfunctional system that has left me in a constant state of uncertainty and anxiety, they simply stated that I do “not qualify for leave on any basis”. It was a crushing blow.
I don’t like to think about what it would mean to be removed to Kenya, but in the last few days I have been forced to contemplate it. For a start, it would mean living in a country where expressions of sexual intimacy are outlawed for gay people. Only last month the high court upheld a law which criminalised gay sex – and hangs a 14-year jail sentence over the heads of those who dare to have a relationship with someone they love.
It’s not just the law that would threaten me. With my case being so public I would be at risk of extreme homophobia everywhere I went. I know all too well that LGBT people in Kenya struggle to get housing and jobs, and I’d be at serious risk of destitution if I was forced to go there. Imagine being scared everywhere you went, being jobless, homeless and away from the place you know call home – that would be my life in Kenya.
The idea of being forced to leave the UK doesn’t just fill me with fear, it also puts into sharp focus all that I would miss from my life here. My mum lives in Bristol and being deported would mean leaving her behind, unsure if or when I might see her again. Bristol is my home, and my rugby team and other LGBT friends are my family. After almost 10 years here I feel safe and happy and I want to keep building my life in my adopted city and use the skills I have to return to work and contribute to society.
Ultimately, this isn’t just about me. This behaviour from the Home Office is part of a consistent pattern of ill-treatment towards me and other people seeking asylum. I’ve known so many others to have had their rights and humanity denied. We’ve seen people ejected from the UK who had a legal right to stay here. There have been cases of extreme mistreatment in detention. And there have been countless other cases of LGBT people removed from the UK to countries where their lives are at risk. And a number of people who were recently removed to Jamaica by the Home Office have lost their lives.
It doesn’t have to be like this, for me or anyone else. I am simply asking that the Home Office follow its own rules by protecting me from persecution. Rather than patting themselves on the back with their LGBT-friendly Twitter picture they need to wake up to the fact that they are putting my life, and the lives of many others, at risk. This isn’t some sort of game, I’m not a number, I’m a real person with a life in this country who is simply demanding to be protected from extreme danger.
While the Home Office is acting with cruelty, the people around me are being nothing but kind. Today I will walk into the police station, facing possible immediate detention, surrounded by my rugby teammates and many others who say they will be there for me at that most terrifying moment. More than 100,000 have already signed a petition calling for the Home Office to reverse its decision – and many more have written to Sajid Javid to demand that he acts with humanity.
I’m not giving up hope. I know that even the most callous of government departments has human beings working in it – people who recognise that being able to express your love is a basic human right. Whatever happens today I am determined that this is not the end of my fight, and that a culture of cruelty towards people like me can, and must, be overturned for good.
• Ken Macharia is a gay man who came to the UK as a student in 2009 and is based in Shepton Mallet. He plays rugby with the Bristol Bisons.