He says they told him to go back to where he came from. They said in this country, where he moved when he was a young boy, being gay was not OK. They looted his shop and bashed him, and on the day that he decided to flee to Australia, they walked past holding what looked like a cup of acid.
"Do it! Do it!" he heard them say. Although they never threw the acid, he says it helped him make the difficult decision to flee.
The man is one of 29 delegates who attended the 20th International Aids Conference in Melbourne last month and who stayed behind, seeking asylum in Australia, claiming they face persecution in their homelands. The Age has agreed not to name the man or his nationality due to concerns for his safety.
The openly gay man said he had established a successful retail business and married a woman who knew about his sexuality. They recently had a child together. But some people in the community were determined to make his life a misery.
He said over four years his business was looted three times. The first two times, the police refused to prosecute the offenders.
"Even if you go to the police, they say, ‘In this country you cannot [be gay]’," he said.
The last time it was the police themselves that did the looting and the beating. They took everything, he said.
Soon after that, he paid about $3220 to a man who organised him to come to Melbourne for the AIDS conference. He attended the conference but said his goal was always to seek protection from the Australian government.
"I said I did not want to leave without my family, but I could do nothing," he said.
Now, he is staying at a city backpacker hostel, mingling with holidaymakers and other anxious African conference delegates seeking asylum. Among them is a human rights campaigner from the same African country, who said he had faced an attempt on his life because of his work. “I don’t have faith in my own country to protect me,” the man said.
On Monday, the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre confirmed it has been approached by “quite a number of people” who attended the high-profile AIDS conference in late July.
The centre’s executive director David Manne said under Australian law a person fearing persecution in their homeland had the right to apply for a protection visa.
"Without going into individual circumstances, what we can say is the sad reality is that their fears reflect the tragic reality – that around the globe many people are subject to severe brutality and oppression because of the issues that surround HIV and advocacy for people suffering from HIV/AIDS," Mr Manne said.
The International AIDS Society, which organised the conference, released a statement saying steps were taken during the allocation process to ensure all delegates were intending to return home.
"However, it is not unusual for there to be a small number of delegates who chose to try seek asylum," the statement said.
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