Words: Will Stroude; Image: Bristol Bisons RFC
A gay rugby player who facing deportation to Kenya has won the right to asylum in the UK.
Mechanical engineer Kenneth Macharia, 41, moved to the UK in 2009 but has been embroiled in a five-year battle with the UK Home Office over his refugee status.
Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, with same-sex sexual activity between men carrying a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. Hostility towards LGBTQ people also sadly remains rife throughout Kenyan society.
Kenneth Macharia (Image: Bristol Bisons RFC)
After being detained by immigration enforcement officers in 2018, Kenneth's plight came to wider public attention after the LGBTQ-inclusive rugby team he plays for, Bristol Bisons RFC, launched a campaign to put a stop to his deportation.
Kenneth, who spoke to Attitude about his case in 2019 - the year he and his teammates were honoured with an Attitude Pride Award - revealed at the time how the UK Home Office appeared to dismiss the gay rugby lover's sexuality from the beginning.
“The first time I applied [for asylum] in 2016, they basically said they didn’t believe I am gay", he said at the time.
This week, a first-tier tribunal of the immigration and asylum chamber upheld Kenneth's appeal against deportation, ending a years-long battle against the Home Office.
Reacting to the news, Macharia indicated that the stress of the ordeal would take a long time to recover from.
"When I tell people close to me the news, they are jumping with joy and excitement, I put on a smile and pretend to share the same level of enthusiasm", he said in a statement.
"It’s been a very long struggle, since 2016. I have had my hopes crushed too many times. I can’t help wondering what will go wrong. The sadness has not gone away. I used to be optimistic. It will be a while before I am again.
Former Attitude Pride Award winner Kenneth Macharia and his fellow Bristol Bisons RFC team mates
"I am very grateful for all the support I have received. Very many people came to my aid at my time of need. The list is very long, some I know, some I don’t.
"Thanks to each and everyone of you. It will take me a bit of time to truly believe this nightmare is over and be at the same level of enthusiasm as you."
In a statement, Bristol Bisons RFC said: "Firstly, we'd like to thank everyone for their continued support throughout the past couple of years. We still regularly receive messages asking as to the proceedings, anything that can be done and Ken's general well-being.
The team added: "Thank you to everyone who has offered their time, money and support throughout the fight."
Dr S Chelvan, Head of Immigration and Public Law at 33 Bedford Row, which represented Kenneth, described the latest ruling as a "wonderful result" - but criticised the Home Office's handling of the case and called for urgent reform of the UK asylum system.
"Kenneth now has legal certainty with respect to his future in the UK as a refugee, after being subject to a Home Office culture of disbelief and reliance on inaccurate and flawed country evidence", Dr Chelvan told Attitude.
"Kenneth's story is not the only example of cases were the Home Office rely on inaccurate country information to refuse asylum to LGBT+ refugees. Sri Lanka is another country example, where the evidence shows anal examinations of those who are perceived to be gay.
"Kenneth's case highlights the urgent need for the Home Secretary to review and apply structural reform to her Country Policy and Information Team, as recommended by the Independent Chief Inspector last September, in order to improve Home Office decision-making currently affecting the lives of those unlawfully refused asylum in the UK."
Dr S Chelvan's instructing solicitors were Marie-Christine Allaire-Rousse and Amber Rowsell of South West Law (Legal Services in the Community) Ltd. Ms Allaire-Rousse told Attitude: "We are very pleased for Ken and to see him recognised as a refugee but regret that it took so long for his case to be resolved and hope the Home Office will enact the reforms needed."