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Ugandans' gay wedding 'first' highlights Sweden asylum lottery

The Local · 29 Jan 2013, 15:28

Published: 29 Jan 2013 15:28 GMT+01:00

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Last weekend, Lawrence Kaala and Jimmy Sserwadda were all smiles as they exchanged vows in a crowded church in the north Stockholm suburb of Järfälla.

"It feels great," Sserwadda tells The Local after the wedding, which was attended by more than one hundred guests – including Sweden's EU Minister Birgitta Ohlsson.

"We had been separated in such a hostile environment; we didn't know if we'd ever see each other again."

The ceremony was supposed to be a fairy-tale ending to an improbable story for the two men who found themselves reunited in Sweden years after their relationship had been cut short due to persecution in their native Uganda.

"Uganda is about the worst place in the world to live as someone who is openly gay," Sserwadda explains.

But while Sserwadda's asylum application has been approved, Kaala learned just days before the ceremony that his application had been denied, meaning he will have to leave Sweden in two weeks if he doesn't file an appeal.

"If they put him on a plane to Uganda now, they will be sentencing him to death," says Sserwadda.

The two men had been in a long-term relationship in Uganda until one day in 2008 when Sserwadda suddenly fled the country shortly after being arrested and beaten for "promoting homosexuality".

"I didn't tell Lawrence. I know he would have insisted on coming with and that would have put our lives at risk. So I left him behind," he recalls.

Sserwadda ended up in Sweden and was granted asylum on account of the risks he faced as a gay man if he were to return to Uganda. He became active in the Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights (Riksförbundet för homosexuellas, bisexuellas och transpersoners rättigheter – RFSL), helping other LBGT asylum seekers with their cases.

In the summer of 2011, Sserwadda's story was featured in Kom Ut, a magazine published by RFSL, as part of a piece which compared LBGT asylum cases to a lottery due to inconsistencies and a lack of knowledge on the part of officials at the Swedish Migration Board (Migrationsverket).

Unbeknownst to Sserwadda, a copy of the magazine landed in the hands of Kaala, who had also fled the increasingly threatening atmosphere in Uganda.

Through chance, Kaala also ended up in Sweden and was dumbfounded to see his former lover's picture plastered on a magazine cover three years after Sserwadda fled.

Kaala phoned Sserwadda who was equally surprised to hear from the man he assumed he'd never see again.

"I was shocked. I thought it was a joke," Sserwadda recalls.

"When we finally met in person, Lawrence said, 'Yes, darling it's me!' As we hugged he then asked me why I had left."

Sserwadda explained why he kept his plans to flee Uganda a secret and was soon forgiven for leaving his lover in the lurch. The two rekindled their former relationship, and began talking about having a wedding.

"If we could have gotten married in Uganda if we would have and when we found each other again here in Sweden it felt natural to go ahead with it," he says.

Despite learning that Kaala's asylum application had been rejected just days before the two were to walk down the aisle, they refused to allow the setback to dampen their spirits.

"We decided to focus on the wedding and worry about the possible deportation later," Sserwadda explains.

He adds he's frustrated that despite both he and Kaala being gay men from Uganda, where same-sex relationships are illegal and could be punishable by death under a proposed bill currently up for debate, their asylum cases have been treated differently by migration authorities in Sweden.

"They don't believe his story," he explains, despite Kaala having scars on his body that both claim came as a result of beatings suffered by Kaala because he is a homosexual.

According to RFSL chairwoman Ulrika Westerlund, the Migration Board has a long way to go in how it handles asylum applications from people claiming persecution on account of their sexual preferences.

"They haven't succeeded in ensuring that everyone who works on asylum cases involving LGBT applicants has the right knowledge and competence," she tells The Local.

While no official statistics exist on LGBT asylum cases in Sweden, RFSL provides assistance in around 60 to 70 cases a year, which the Migration Board estimates represents roughly one-third of the total, according to Westerlund.

"A lot of the rejections are strange. It's as if they have no concept of what LGBT asylum seekers face back home," she says, explaining that the success or failure of LGBT asylum cases often depends on the case worker assigned to review the application.

Story continues below…

Officials at the migration agency claim they are playing close attention to the situation in Uganda and that the agency continues to work on a strategy for increasing workers' competence on gender and LGBT issues.

Westerlund adds that the wedding of Sserwadda and Kaala constitutes "new circumstances" which will be grounds for a planned appeal of the deportation order.

"News of the wedding has spread around the world, including to Uganda so it's much more dangerous there now," she explains.

While Kaala could now re-file his application to receive a Swedish residence permit on the basis of being married to Sserwadda, who is due to receive Swedish citizenship later this year, doing so would require to return to Uganda to file the required paperwork.

"He can't go back there. He'd be arrested immediately," says Sserwadda.

The couple now has until February 11th to file an appeal with the Migration Board.

"We haven't had time for a honeymoon. We've been working around the clock since the wedding to get things in order," he adds.

David Landes

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The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

16:18 January 29, 2013 by VicTaulic
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
17:19 January 29, 2013 by hackie
The world has tumbled upside down. shakes head...
17:38 January 29, 2013 by prince T
You are more than a racist.

You are a paranoid HOMOPHOBIC too. So all white homosexuals are weird.
18:09 January 29, 2013 by intrepidfox
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
18:25 January 29, 2013 by hackie

Well said.
19:42 January 29, 2013 by Rishonim
i wish them well.
19:58 January 29, 2013 by Emerentia
@ intrepidfox How about a heterosexual couple who don't want any children are they weird too? Most people want spend their life with someone they love, the children production part is just a little part of life not all of it. There is more to life than to produce children actually.

Do you say to your wife/husband/girlfried/boyfriend "I dont love you. I dont want to live with you. I dont want to spend time with you. The only reason I'm with you is to produce children. Probably not.

I don't understand why some people are so interested in other peoples love life, let people love each other if they want. Thats their business, not yours and not mine. I assume that they love each other as much as me and my boyfriend love each other. No difference.
20:01 January 29, 2013 by bourgeoisieboheme
Just by chance they both end up in Sweden? That is not chance, that is nearly improbable statistically. I call BS on this. I really do hope this is for real, otherwise they are the smartest asylum seekers I have seen to date!
20:03 January 29, 2013 by Ulvenkai
This is why I love Sweden--it is a place where people can be together and where impossible dreams can come true.

I hope their appeal goes through. I wish them the best of luck.
21:01 January 29, 2013 by intrepidfox
Comment removed by The Local for breach of our terms.
09:09 January 30, 2013 by Achilles7

This argument that people should be allowed to love anyone they want is as old as the hills. No one is saying that homosexual couples shouldn't be allowed to love each other - after all, that can't be controlled. The question is whether or not they should be allowed to get married.

Why do so many homosexuals think they're being oppressed by not being allowed to get married? If they're allowed to have a 'civil partnership', which grants them all the same legal rights as a married couple, then why must they insist on getting married? Can't they just accept that marriage is a unique union entered into between a man and a woman, and it's just not for them. There's nothing 'oppressive' or 'discriminatory' about that.

As a right-handed person, I don't expect to be able to join a left-handed club.
10:28 January 30, 2013 by Emerentia
@ intrepidfox. Well if it were a sickness, like you seem to think, wouldn't all the gay people be on some sick leave or in hospitals then instead of going to work like heterosexual people? Love isn't a sickness. Why wouldn't there be a human race if homosexual people where allowed to love each other without being judged and percecuted? Do you believe that it would be less heterosexual people then or what? Do you think that homosexual people should be forced to marry heterosexual people? What's the point in that, that would only make both lives miserable. Or should homosexual people stay single all their lives? Or should they be killed or what? I don't get what you want? What is pushed in your face? There are probably a lot more heterosexual marriages that's pushed in your face than homosexual ones, aren't there?

@ Is marriage or no marriage really the question? For some people it seems to be to even let them exist, without getting judged or mocked. I think that to a lot of people, heterosexual or homosexual, marriage has a symbolic and deeper meaning, it's more than just legal rights. It's also about the terms, to be married, to call the person they love their husband or wife. In Sweden, where a lot of people are couples without getting married I think it's more acceptable for gay people not to get married, but there are countries where almost every adult who are in a couple are married, so then I guess it's more important to get married for people with such a background.
12:40 January 30, 2013 by allnotmoney
wonder shall never end in sweden
16:58 January 30, 2013 by intrepidfox
So TL deletes comments if they do not like them, Are we not allowed to write anything negative anymore. Is just an "i agree with everything" page even when the subject is controversial and in my views very sick
21:05 January 30, 2013 by Frubutterfly

"Can't they just accept that marriage is a unique union entered into between a man and a woman, and it's just not for them."

Oh but here in Sweden it is legal. Try not to tell me what is right for me. There are other places in the world for you.
01:25 January 31, 2013 by Gardian
just one question, if one any one in the world faced life threatening because he/she is gay is that will qualify them to get Sweden lottery and became ''citizen in this country'' ?

I have no problems with ''gay people''.

I am far from being a racist but please '' Sweden is already a crowded place'' to host all fallow ''gay folks''

In fact, the number of anti-gay crimes rose even in democratic nations such as US, according to some reports is gun to 1,256 in 2011 from 1,206 in 1996. The vast majority of those anti-gay hate crimes are against men.

There is no legal base for gay couple to get ''asylum'' in Sweden because of hate crime against them or they did not get to get married. Most of the countries do not permit legal marriage.

I am afraid we are giving the wrong impression to people...
08:52 January 31, 2013 by axiom
Sweden is not a crowded place, far far from it, when last have you trekked out into the country side. In a month I go to visit some relatives in a town with 50% of the houses empty.

Asylum is open to people fleeing persecution, that is the main praxis regardless of what that persecution is, if they can be offered the opportunity to live out their lives in Sweden as economically and socially contributing residents and enjoy a freedom they could only have otherwise dreamed of, then why not.

In principle it is not much different from all the other migration reasons sambo, work, etc. same idea I am moving to Sweden because when I weighed my options, for whatever reason Sweden was the best one. I add to the population, etc in the same exact way, its not magically less because my "sambo" is a swedish citizen, etc.

As for these two guys, good on you hope you both get to stay and enjoy your life. Love is such an amazing thing. I think some people here keep forgetting that Swedish society has no special interest in who you love and that is one of the things that is so breathtaking to see everyday. Marriage is not even given any pivotal role its a personal wish between two adults who wish to commit to each other.

Well done guys, you look really nice together!
14:19 January 31, 2013 by ann2
This is so nice! So glad they found each other. That is beautiful.
15:28 January 31, 2013 by Jes
While these two men have the right to marry , they have no right to lie . There is a lot of exaggeration about how homosexuals are treated in Uganda . It is NOT TRUE that homesexuals are KILLED . One can say that homosexuals are despised but not persecuted . Yes , there is a law that criminalizes "sodomy " . This is a law that was created and left behind by Colonial Britain . Despite that , there is no record where a homosexual has been arrested , charged and sent to the main prison outside of Kampala . Right in the centre of one of Kampala night spots , there is a bar where homosexuals usually meet . There are no reports of the Police or the public going in to "kill" gays . One of the most audible advocates of homosexual rights is a Professor of law in the University . She has never been arrested , let alone killed as these men would like you to believe .

So , what is the problem ?

Well , it all about money ! . The gay community has put a lot of money behind its campain . Most of us know what money can do to a needy society . Before some of you wake , there will be thousands on "gay" people coming to Sweden under the guise of running away from "DEATH " .
22:30 January 31, 2013 by intrepidfox
I still think you lot who agree that this is normal are unnatural. It is a sickness that cannot be cured as gays have abnormal Chromosomes. I again say man and woman not man/man, woman/woman. If this had of been natural then there would be no more people in the world. Maybe that is how the Dinosaurs died out..
16:21 February 1, 2013 by thewbert
It's clear from current Ugandan policies and trends that the administration of that country would be absolutely hostile, even deadly, to an "out" homosexual man. To send Kaala back would be a crime. I wish them both well, and I'm glad that RFSL is doing its work to help the migration board stay informed (and humane!)
19:19 February 1, 2013 by tadchem
Love and respect have much in common. If you give them away they will often come back to you, but demanding them almost guarantees you will never get them.

I don't feel compelled to share the details of my sex life with the public, and I am offended by whose who do.
02:41 February 2, 2013 by FatherJon
This is a new gimmick 'asylum seekers' are using to gain permanent status - getting married to someone the same gender, then you can claim 'persecution' back home. Wait and see, there will be a spate of such 'marriages'.
09:48 February 4, 2013 by Cmuthama@yahoo.com
Each people, whites, blacks, spanish, italians etc have their own culture which has evolved over a long period and works for them.

The culture in East Africa and most of Africa is No gay relationships and NO/Never Gay marriages.

That's just the way it is.

In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, being gay is unacceptable. Its is a despicable shameful thing.

However, the culture is different in Sweden and other European countries. If the two gentlemen want to get married, let them get married.

But isn't this a gimmick to immigrate to Sweden as on com mentor has already stated?

Do these gentlemen have skills they can sell in Sweden or where they jobless lay abouts in Uganda and seek to move to Sweden for economic reasons?

My guess is that the last statement is true.......

Swedes are good accommodating people.....but i hate it when the compassion and good nature is Swedes is abused for selfish reasons.

Lastly the two gentlemen have brought shame to their families in Uganda!

I can imagine what their parents, brothers and sisters are going through!

No judgement here, thats just how the culture is like in East Africa.

No to gay's
16:26 February 4, 2013 by Emerentia

Why would there be no more people if some of them is homosexual? It does not affect the population. Do you really worry that human kind will be extinct when the planet is overpopulated?

Do you think that if homosexual people are allowed to live together, then heterosexual people will stop being heterosexual and become homosexual instead or what?


Most people don't share details about their sex life with the public. I can't see anything in this article that implies that this couple share any details about their sex life either. Or do you really mean that saying "I´m married, this is my husband" is to share a detail about ones sex life? If one gets offended every time someone says "I'm married", "I'm in a relationship" or "I'm single"and thinks that that person is sharing details about their sex life by saying so,one must get offended a lot.

@ Cmuthama@yahoo.com

Just because it considered a shame in those countries right now, it doesn't mean that it will always be that way. Societies and people are evolving, when they get better education there, when they see that their family member are happy and live a good life they might change their minds.
11:18 February 5, 2013 by Frubutterfly

Rosa Parks ring a bell?
14:44 February 5, 2013 by Jes
@thewbert ,

I know Uganda inside out . I can assure you that NOTHING more than ugly comments is going to happen to Kaala if he goes back to Uganda .

I don`t even think that the immigration at Entebbe will recognize his face unless he is accompanied by 5 police men as other deportees get usually treated by Swedish Police .

I can also BET that when Kaala and wife get are awarded their parmanent residence status , they will travel back to Uganda to buy land with the money that sympathizers have donated to them.

This "gay trick" has been succefully been played by other Ugandans in USA and Canada .
00:55 February 6, 2013 by intrepidfox

The whole time your sickness is pushed in our faces. Stay at home at do what you do. but we do not want to know about your perversions
01:05 February 6, 2013 by Children Of Adam
Marrying gays in the church is totally against Bible.

How do these christians church fathers replies to this verse?

"If a man has sexual relations with another male as he would with a woman, both have committed a repulsive act. They are certainly to be put to death.


Doing act against Bible turns the christians away from their religion, if i were a church father i could advice them to marry in the skatteverket =)
15:27 February 6, 2013 by Emerentia
@ intrepidfox My perversions? What are those? I'm not aware if I have any perversions, but if I did, I wouldn't tell you, so don't worry. I'm a heterosexual woman, but that doesnt matter, I think that all people should have the right to spend their lifes together, if they want. Why should I stay at home? You are not making sense at all.

@ Jes You say that nothing will happen to this couple if they went back to Uganda. Did you also say that "Nothing is going to happen to David Kato"? He was gay and was killed in Uganda not long ago. I dont think you can garantee their safety. You are talking about some wife, but they dont have any wifes.


@ Children Of Adam. There are a lot of things that people do thats against the Bible, like eating shellfish and pork, get divorced, get married again if you are divorced, working on sundays, masturbating, wearing clothes in different materials, touching something made from pigs skin, like a football or a glove. Or get a tattoo. Or being born out of wedlock, or being the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandchild of someone who was. Or to wear braids in your hair. Or wear gold or pearls. Or talk in a church if you are a woman.

It's not like the priest goes "Oh, I see, you are wearing a pearl necklace, are the greatgreatgreatgreatgreatgreatgranddaughter of a bastard, have a dress in two different materials and work on sundays you cant get married in a church!"

When listening to some Christians you could get the impression that like 99 % of the Bible are texts about homosexuality, almost like it's all there is, when it's not.
16:28 February 6, 2013 by Fredlocks
It's ironic.

In Uganda they will get discriminated against for being gay but not being black.

In Sweden they will get discriminated against for being black but not being gay.

I would take my chances in the UK.
19:47 February 7, 2013 by CJ from Sunshine Desserts
Lovely, now Sweden will have gay tourism from central africa !!
23:28 February 7, 2013 by omash kavash
you people down here comaring hetero sexual to homosexuals are stupid not even stupidity thats worse hetero sexual are natural and god made man for woman the guy whos called prince t and emaralia or emaralda i dont know u guys you all know that homosexuality is a crime against all devine religions you compare ur self to heterosexuals who dont have kids heterosexuals who dont have kids are natural this is the effects of democracy supporting homosexuality and having sex broad daylight in busses n train n then complaining people are taking over your contries you shall pperish like the ones before you in codomo and gomoro
14:35 February 8, 2013 by Jes
@Emerincia , I have been to Uganda . I can assure you 10000+% that David Kato`s killer is in prison . The Prison is called Luzira . It is on the shores of Lake Victoria just outside Kampala . David Kato was hit on the head by this man when they had a fight in Kato`s home in Mukono . Mukono is about 30 hour drive east of Kampala .

Kato`s was killed by someone he was friends with . CNN , BBC , or The Local can vist Luzira and interview the man .

I admit that I cannot guarantee anybody`s safety , but at least I can separate the truth from abvious lies .
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